Pope Francis gave us an early Christmas gift with “Admirabile Signum” (“Enchanting Image”), his little letter on the ancient custom of setting up Nativity scenes as a way to prepare for the birth of Jesus.

Christians began worshipping at the site of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem almost immediately. So many were coming, Emperor Hadrian tried to suppress the devotion by building a temple to the god Apollo on top of the site in the year 136.

Today’s Basilica of the Nativity sits on that same site. This Christmas, thousands will once more make pilgrimages there to kiss the ground where Jesus is said to have first been laid.

Saints from Origen and Jerome to Charles de Foucauld and John Paul II have made this pilgrimage. Mystics like Bl. Margaret Ebner and St. Bridget of Sweden have told their visions of the night that Christ was born.

Pope Francis, in his letter, evokes the witness of St. Francis of Assisi, who popularized the custom of reimagining and reenacting the night of Jesus’ birth.

Christianity is not a fairy tale or myth. Our faith is rooted in history and biography, geography and genealogy. The story of Jesus does not begin, “Once upon a time.” Instead, we say that at a specific moment in history, in a specific place, the living God came to live with us.

There is a beautiful materialism at the heart of Christmas.

I don’t mean the crude commercialism and consumerism that we see in shops and advertising at this time of year. But actually, our culture’s commercialization of Christmas is simply a distortion of the wonder-filled materialism of the Nativity.

Christmas shows us how serious “matter” is for God.

What we celebrate is the God who created this material world out of nothing, entering his creation to inhabit it, coming down from heaven to live alongside his creatures on earth.

Our lives start in the womb of our mothers, so that is where God starts in becoming human….

The above comes from a Dec. 20 posting by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez on Angelus News.