This time of year brings about the usual cliché themes that are preached in the Church. For example, we hear messages about helping others, reconciliation and focusing on God amidst the commercialism of Christmas. As one of my Facebook friends posted on their wall: “Let us put the ‘Christ’ back into Christmas!”
These are good themes to reflect on, but I always noticed something greater about the Incarnation of our Lord that is sometimes missed. Advent and Christmas reflect on the unique identity of our Saviour — the “poor, divine and sovereign King.”
St. Francis of Assisi offers a great reflection of this concept for us this Advent and Christmas.
Three years prior to his death, Francis desired with zeal to follow more closely in the footprints of Jesus by enacting the scene of the Nativity.
Francis summoned a beloved friend named John in the town of Greccio to prepare that scene with a real manger, ox and other animals. Francis, then, invited the town to participate in reflecting on the scene of the Lord’s birth — in essence, he recreated Bethlehem.
At first glance, the event is comparable to a Christmas pageant, but in reality it created a moment of Church through prayer — the people of Greccio meditated on Christ’s historical entry into the world as a poor king.
Thomas Celano, a biographer of Francis, states: “The night is lit up like day, delighting both people and beast. The people arrive, ecstatic at this new mystery of new joy. The forest amplifies the cries and the boulders echo back the joyful crowd. The brothers sing, giving God due praise, and the whole night abounds with jubilation.”
In fact, in many of Francis’ writings we find that he would instruct the faithful by always reminding them about Christ’s Incarnation: “Though he was rich, he wished, together with the most Blessed Virgin, his mother, to choose poverty in the world beyond all else, . . . leaving us an example that we might follow his footprints.”
As we progress from Advent to Christmas, Francis gives us an image of Christ our sovereign king who chooses to be born in poverty. Being born in such a way God justifies the poor, the lowly and the marginalized. Our Christ is a king who takes the side of the underprivileged in order to show us where the humble beginnings of saintliness begin.
Christ’s impoverished birth restores the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. It also emphasizes a new equality and inclusivity among people because God refuses to be put on a pedestal over the people by being born in the worldly sense of rich. He, instead, chooses humble beginnings so that he can connect to the grassroots people of his mission.
This is an image of Christ who is always at the centre of a crowd and is the One who always comes down from the mountain to raise the lowly, thus restoring humanity’s goodness and dignity. Born like a slave, Christ liberates us from the stain of sin so that we can enter more freely into a relationship with God and, one day, God’s kingdom.
Francis always reminded his brothers that God is a passionate lover and champion for us. Jesus’ Incarnation reveals that God will go to any length to draw near to us so that we can draw near to our God — we will not draw near to God in the aisles of superiority, but in the common markets of people’s homes and the margins of society. For Francis, this is the image of Church that we are called to live.
We are called to participate in building God’s kingdom through the virtues of humility, poverty and love. Therefore, we don’t side with the marginalized and poor just during Advent, but year round. We are called to praise God by living the Good News with joyful hearts because we have the great gift of communion with our God, especially in the Eucharist which Francis and the people celebrated at Greccio.
For Francis, we are called to manifest this gift of our salvation by giving the best gift we can offer at Christmas and throughout the year — our time, our love and our presence to others. After all, we are celebrating that we are never really poor because, through the mystery of God becoming human in Christ, we have received an inheritance far richer than what the world could or can offer.
(Billy Isenor's online blog: godsgeste.blogspot.com.)