Dear Friends of Joseph House:
By far our favorite Christmas decoration is the nativity scene, that representation of the birth of Christ with the Holy Family, shepherds, angels, animals, and wise men. We have more than one set up in our Salisbury convent: there’s one in the chapel, one in the dining room, and one in our basement community room. Each nativity is in a different style, but they all keep us focused on why this time of year is so special.
Most nativity sets come with a stable, but you may have seen some that place the figures in the ruins of an old building. There are crumbling stone walls and broken pillars instead of the usual barnyard structure. We always thought this was just artistic license since the Gospels don’t actually mention a stable, only a manger (a feeding trough) which became a crib for baby Jesus.
In 2019, however, Pope Francis wrote a beautiful exposition on the meaning of the nativity scene and set us straight:
More than anything, the ruins are the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays and disappoints. This scenic setting tells us that Jesus is newness in the midst of an aging world, that He has come to heal and rebuild, to restore the world and our lives to their original splendor (Admirabile Signum).
It’s good to know the meaning of this symbolism. What comes to mind is a quote from Thomas Merton’s journal; addressing God after a bout of self-examination, he writes, “Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there!” Christmas is astoundingly good news. The world is in disarray as it always has been, and the difficulties of life never end. But in the midst of creation, subject to all manner of corruption, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). God is at home—even in the mess. Does anything else bring us such hope?
Yes, Christmas is a time to celebrate, but it calls for more than just warm sentiments and consumer excess. At Bethlehem, in the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ took upon Himself our poverty and embraced our littleness. To welcome Him at Christmas is to encounter Him in the mystery of the poor, where He promised to be (see Mt 25:31-46). Look for Him in the faces of the homeless and the hungry, and you will find what is essential in life.
Dear friends, we can’t thank you enough for your support of Joseph House. Your prayers and contributions give life to our ministry. You enable it to bear fruit. You make a difference to so many people in need. We can serve them with love because of you.
Our dedicated volunteers also enable us to respond to the many cries for help we receive. It can get busy, but the work is joyful.
Sara, 61, lives alone on one of the many back roads of the Eastern Shore. Her gums have been infected for a long time, and she needs to have most of her remaining teeth removed and replaced with dentures. For many months she has been saving up for this badly needed dental work, but it was beginning to seem like an impossible goal on her fixed income. The Joseph House was able to contribute $400 so Sara can get the dentures and healing treatment she needs.
Home for Wanda, 62, is a little house not much bigger than a storage shed. She doesn’t mind the size because she is frail and must use a walker. Over the summer Wanda suffered an aneurysm and was hospitalized. While she was away, a thief had no trouble breaking into her home and stealing the money Wanda needed to pay her rent. We supplied the missing funds of $425.
Randall, 63, is a widower. He has advanced cancer and is unable to work. He started receiving a small Social Security check and food stamps, but his basic expenses are overshadowing his resources. We paid $335 toward his past-due electric bill so the power would not be cut off in his home.
Jordyn, 24, was working in a chicken processing plant, but the physical demands of her job were too much for her and she had to stop. She lives in Virginia, in a sparsely populated area, and there are few other options for employment. Before Jordyn could find another job, she missed a rent payment, and her landlord served her with an eviction notice. Although Salisbury is more than an hour by car from where she lives, Jordyn made the trip, looking for help. We called her landlord and made arrangements to assist with $400 to stop the eviction, which was scheduled for that day.
Tammy, 51, and her husband were homeless and living in their car. They both have serious health problems, but only Tammy receives a disability check; nothing is left over after the car payment, insurance bill, and buying food. Fortunately, the couple received a subsidized housing voucher, but they could not move in for several days. With the weather turning colder, we gave Tammy and her husband five nights in a motel ($350).
Coming Soon: We currently have three residents in the Joseph House Workshop, our job-preparation program for homeless men. An update on their activities will be forthcoming. Please visit our website to learn more about our ministries, What We Do, as well as Donate Online.
Thank you for letting us be a part of your lives. We are grateful for everything you do to help us in our mission to uphold the dignity of all people, especially the poor, and to assist them in their times of need.
Our prayers are with you for a blessed Advent and a happy celebration of Christmas. May the New Year bring you peace and good health.
And may your hearts rejoice always in God’s gift of love for you!
Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
As we prepare to welcome Christ with faith reborn, we offer you the gift of prayer. Please send us your prayer requests using our Contact Form.
Read the full text of Pope Francis’ document on the nativity scene:
The First Nativity Scene
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with setting up the first nativity scene to help celebrate Christmas. In 1223 he was visiting Greccio, a small hilltown in Italy, where the caves reminded him of the Bethlehem countryside. Francis felt inspired. According to his first biographer, Thomas of Celano, the saint decided “to bring to life the memory of that Babe born in Bethlehem,” to see as much as possible with his own eyes “the discomfort of His infant needs, how He lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, He was laid upon a bed of hay.”
Enlisting the help of a local friend, Francis set up an altar inside a rocky niche. A manger was brought in along with a borrowed ox and donkey. Friars and townspeople arrived for Midnight Mass, bringing flowers and torch lights.
St. Bonaventure, in his life of Francis, writes, “The man of God [Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His Name for the tenderness of his love, he called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”
And in the words of Thomas, “There Simplicity was honored, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem. The night was lit up as the day, and was delightful to men and beasts…[Francis] stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy.”
People loved the way that the pages of sacred Scripture were brought to life, and the inspiration of Francis quickly spread to churches and private homes. Today, nativity scenes of all types and sizes proclaim the meaning of Christmas around the world.
Please read this blog post by Franciscan author Murray Bodo OFM on what Greccio says to us today: