Advent is a time for preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas, the birth of the God-Man Jesus Christ. It is a time for reflection as, with joyful hope, we await his return in glory.
Sadly, we spend most of this time prior to Christmas being busy about many other things. There are decorations to be put up and lights to be untangled. There are cards to be sent and cookies to be baked. There is the shopping for that special, perfect gift, mixed with anticipation of receiving that longed-for gift. Not to mention the parties and the singing of Christmas songs and the like. We seem to celebrate Christmas before Dec. 25! After Christmas Day, when Christians begin to keep the Christmas Season, it is all packed up, put in storage, as anticipation for next year begins.
Perhaps, though, at homes and offices that have been decorated, a glimpse of the Manger with Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child will be seen. When such a Nativity Scene is viewed, think of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis loved Christmas. He loved Nativity plays and live Nativity scenes, with all the animals and noises and smells. For as Isaiah states, “the ox knows his owner, as the ass his master’s crib” (Is 1:3). For Saint Francis, the animals were glorifying God, their creator. Saint Francis loved all this because he believed that Jesus is God-Incarnate. That truly “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16). Saint Francis loved Jesus. For Saint Francis Jesus was a reality in his life. How important for each of us to say the same.
As we begin our final preparations for Christmas, call to mind the Poverello of Assisi. When doing so, recall more than his love for Nativity scenes. Recall instead the story of Saint Francis and the leper.
As Saint Francis was making his way along a road, he heard the bells jingling that told him a leper was coming; then he smelt the leper before he saw the leper. The leper asked for money and Saint Francis tossed some at him as he continued along his way. Feeling not right about the encounter, Saint Francis returned to the leper, gave him all his money, then hugged and kissed him.
It is a good story to reflect upon at this moment, when tensions are high between so many people. There are many in our nation who are forcing a division based on identity, pitting people against each other on the basis of, for example, ethnicity, color, gender, sexuality, political party, or social ideology. Too often the rhetoric around such topics is full of hate, which demonizes the other side with exaggerated generalizations. Each side begins to see the other side as a dirty leper to be avoided, shunned and only minimally helped from a distance.
Saint Francis saw something more as he reflected upon the leper. He saw a human being created in the image and likeness of the God. Saint Francis understood that God loved the leper, and, therefore, so should he.
As these weeks of preparation for Christmas full of shopping, decorating, baking and singing come to an end, recall Saint Francis’ love for Christmas. Reflect upon the story of our Lord’s birth. Hear the song of the angels and join in with them, singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will” (Lk. 2:14).
Following Saint Francis, glorify God by being people of good will. To be a person of good will is to will and to love the good that God wills and loves. This includes doing good for and loving all people, who have the same human nature the Son united to his Divine Person. This begins by bestowing upon people generosity, treating them with kindness and patience. In this manner, we share with them the love of the Christ Child, who is the Prince of Peace (cf Is 9:6). By doing so, the true gift of Christmas will be spread to the hearts of all, so that all might become men of good will, joining with the church and the choir of angels in singing the glory of God.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.