Víctor Codina. Pope Francis wrote a brief, simple but profound Apostolic Letter (Admirabile signum) on the Nativity scene, and signed it in Greccio, where St. Francis of Assisi set up the first Nativity scene.
Just as cribs are set up in families, places of worship and various locations around the city, we can also build a Nativity scene at a global level: where is Jesus really born today?
Families, with their children, make the crib with mountains made of cork, with moss, adding the scene with the Holy Family and the star of Bethlehem. Then they get together, they share lunch or dinner, they offer gifts, they embrace each other, forgetting wounds of the past, and share goodwill.
Modern cities switch on their Christmas lights, and in the shops, carols are played to encourage Christmas shopping. Decorated Christmas trees are seen everywhere, Father Christmas rings his bell, and sleighs travel through the snow. In places of worship, you will hear traditional carols, Jingle Bells, Niño Mauelito (the Christ-child), Silent Night, La nuit de Noël est venue, Adeste fideles, Singing bells…
But it is in the Amazon, where this year we see a different Crib. There is no cave, or trees, no lights, or Father Christmas on his sleigh. The Amazonian jungle has been ablaze with fires for several weeks, timber companies have felled trees, and oil and hydro-electric companies are not providing light for the Amazonian communities. Everything has been devastated, damaged, turned into desert, the region is threatened, its veins opened, its leaders threatened with death.
Yet in the middle of this beautiful and unstable Amazon, this year, Jesus is born: Mary with her face decorated with traces of red paint, Joseph wearing a feathered headpiece, the Child, with Amazonian features, opening his arms, smiling. There are no shepherds with their flocks, although some indigenous people perhaps bring the Child little monkeys that have been hunted, and some little fish from the contaminated river. Neither do the Three Wise Men arrive, lost in the middle of the jungle, without canoes to cross the river with their camels.
Mary and Joseph are worried about their child’s future. Will Jesus have mercury in his blood, like other children born in mining areas? Will the family have to emigrate in order to survive, in order to “live well”, in harmony with the community, with nature and with God?
The stars are shining, and the night becomes mysteriously luminous, as angels sing and announce that this Child born in the Amazon region is the Saviour of the world, source of life, love and gentleness, source of joy and meaning for humanity, for the planet and for all of creation. God has become flesh to allow us to participate in His life; He is God with us, we are not alone or abandoned in the middle of the world.
And all the goodness that exists in the world, which gives the ultimate meaning to the Christmas celebrations in the modern world, and which explains the reason behind the mysterious kindness that is born in our hearts around this time, springs from this Child with the Amazonian features, born into an indigenous people, these people that are cast aside, and left at the margins of humanity. Without this Child, the world would not make sense, and life would have no meaning.
What is more, violence, hatred, greed, the materialistic consumerism of the current deadly system, the agnostic indifference of the western world, can extinguish this small light which emerged this Christmas in the Amazon.
Let us contemplate with gratitude and silence the beauty of this Amazonian Nativity scene, and ask ourselves if we are capable of defending the Amazon and our entire common home for new generations.