Seven hundred and ninety three years ago, on the feast of Christmas 1223, Francis, the poor man of Assisi with the help of Giovanni Velita, Lord of Greccio and count of Celano, created the first crib outside the little town of Greccio, in Italy. Today, every church and many homes have a nativity scene. What is so fascinating about this nativity scene? Mary, Joseph and the infant are surrounded by the ox, the donkey, the sheep and the shepherds.
The figures in the crib were chosen carefully. The ox and the donkey come from the prophet Isaiah, “The ox knows its master, the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” The sheep and shepherds come from Ezekiel, “they were scattered because there was no shepherd.” Popular legend augmented the scene over the centuries; it is said that at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals have the gift of speech bestowed, because they gave the infant Jesus His first shelter. Cattle are said to bow to the East on this night, and bees it is said hum, the 100th Psalm in their hives, “Praise the Lord all the earth, serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence singing for joy.” You can check that out the next crib you come across.