We don’t review this book simply because the author is well-known, but because the message is important for spiritual practice.

“We are invited to set out on a spiritual journey,” writes Pope Francis here, in a collection of reflections on the meaning of the Nativity (the scene of the birth of Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning), “drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman.” It’s that humility of God that the author wants everyone who cares about Christmas to learn from. If this were to happen, peace, kindness, compassion, and hospitality would reign.

The writings that comprise the book are from homilies, Angelus messages, and other composed remarks given by Pope Francis over the last ten years. The introduction was written specifically for this volume. In it, the author explains he’s twice been to Greccio — where Saint Francis of Assisi recreated the first Nativity creche scene 800 years ago, in 1223 — and “the excitement of that sight prompts me to delve deeper into the Christian mystery that loves to hide within what is infinitely small.” This is the essence of the Nativity (Christmas Day), and of this book: humility: the small, naked, vulnerable God who identified and still identifies with human beings. This is a message easily lost or misplaced in Christmas revelry as well as in Christian institutions, facts that Pope Francis understands well and often seems to be striving to correct.

Short chapters cover themes of the Nativity — from Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the stable, shepherds, magi, and the mysterious star the magi are said to have followed in the night sky. Frequently, the author offers contemporary applications, such as this:

“We may ask ourselves what star we have chosen to follow in our lives. Some stars may be bright, but they do not point the way. So it is with success, money, career, honors, and pleasures when these become our life. They are meteors: they blaze momentarily, but then quickly burn out and their brilliance fades. They are shooting stars that mislead rather than lead. The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there, ever kindly: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you.”

We were surprised at how the author describes the spiritual meaning of Christmas trees in a short chapter near the end, “The Christmas Tree,” under two headings: “The tree points upwards” and “A sign of rebirth.” (See the excerpt accompanying this review for one of these in full.)

Go Deeper:
Wisdom for Advent and Christmas: An E-Course with quotes to assure your heart during the Christian holy days.