Each year on the Third Sunday of Advent children gather with their families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome for “Bambinelli Sunday.” The children bring with them the figurine of the Christ Child—the “Bambinelli”—from their family’s Nativity Crèche. The Christ Child is held aloft for the Pope’s blessing and then returned home to the family crèche; they are “taking God home” with them.
In 1223, three years before his death, St. Bonaventure tells us that Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Crèche, or a “living Manger of Bethlehem” with real animals and people to “make the Incarnation of God become real.” 800 years later, Saint John Paul II, as Pope, reinstituted the ancient custom of “Bambinelli Sunday.”
Today in every parish in the world on the Third Sunday of Advent the custom continues. This weekend many of you have brought your baby Jesus from your family’s Nativity scene. It may be a brand-new baby Jesus or one your grandmother gave to you: the one you remember so fondly as a child. No matter the age your baby Jesus, the custom is meant to remind us of the reality and tangibility of God-made-flesh; we call this the Incarnation. After Mass at the 9AM family Mass we will process out to the large Franciscan Nativity on the front lawn and exercise an ancient custom of St. Francis. Each person will take one single strand of straw from the church’s holy manger and bring it home to your family’s manger scene. You will place that single strand of straw underneath your baby Jesus at home. Perhaps you will reflect upon the many homes across our town and indeed across the world that bring the holiness of the Nativity into their own homes. St. Francis wanted each of you to bring the birth of God into your homes.
What makes this exceptional is that the place for the birth of God is no longer in simply in Bethlehem, but in your home, in your own life. God settles himself into your home and even into your heart: this is what we recall as we look upon the Nativity scene.