By FATHER JUDE MICHAEL KRILL, OFM Conv., Commentary | Published December 19, 2013
Christmas is a time we honor Jesus for who He is: the gift and son of God.
Francis of Assisi thought the ultimate wonder is that God loved us enough to be one of us. Jesus came to earth in the simplicity and vulnerability of a child and honors us with His holy presence because Jesus knew what we could become.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God” is a powerful and prayerful observation from one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems. Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, served in the slums of Liverpool. Once when he was asked how we can get a better idea of faith, he said: “Give alms, serve the poor.” Hopkins was saying that it’s a matter of action.
When God gave the people of Israel the Torah, they said in response, “We will do and we will hear,” (Ex 24:7) not, we will hear and then we will do. Some actions simply cannot be understood until they are performed—by doing, we understand.
When Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, he doesn’t exclaim, now I get it, now I understand. Rather he proclaims: “My own eyes have seen.” It’s all about what can be known in our hearts, in time. It’s not an idea that saves us, it’s a person, Jesus.
Francis of Assisi saw the world charged with God’s grandeur, naming everyone and everything his sister or brother. Once, the Italian hillside town of Greccio seemed to Francis to change to that of Bethlehem. It was on a clear December night that Francis saw shepherds sleeping under the stars and that gave him an idea. Francis confided his plan to his friend, Sir John, who promised that all would be ready on Christmas Eve.
On the day before Christmas, people came to see and hear Brother Francis, the poor man from Assisi. Men, women and children, walking, riding on donkeys, crowding into little carts drawn by great white oxen, carrying torches. These were poor folk, peasants from the fields, charcoal burners from the mountains, farmers and their children, all gathered in the square before the church, and by the light of flaring torches the people saw with wonder and delight the surprise which Brother Francis and Sir John had prepared for them. They looked into a real stable. There was the manger full of hay, there were a live ox and donkey. Even by torchlight their breath showed in the frosty air. And there, on the hay, lay a real baby, wrapped from the cold, asleep and smiling. It looked as sweet and innocent as the Christ Child Himself.
Francis stood before them and proclaimed the birth of the Child Jesus, of the shepherds in the fields, and of the angels’ song. Francis told of the love that is gentle as a little child and is willing to be poor and humble as the Baby who was laid in a manger among the cattle. He begged his listeners to put anger and hatred and envy out of their hearts this Christmas Eve, and to think only thoughts of peace and good will.
All listened, the church bells rang, Mass was celebrated with great devotion and never before had such glorious hymns been heard in the town of Greccio. Francis’ gift of the first live nativity allowed those gathered to see and many thought, “We are in Bethlehem.”
Each Sunday as I watch our good people gather, I know so many of their stories: husbands taking care of their wives, wives taking care of their husbands, children taking care of their parents, all kinds of people doing all kinds of selfless things, when no one is looking. Although selfless, I know they despair. I know they sometimes feel desolate and empty. Their faith in the Lord, even on those days when thinking straight is impossible, when they feel depleted and drained of hope, when they no longer have any idea what’s going on, is the work of the Lord, and therefore, in this, and only in this, our Lord is with them.
The symphony of Christmas has the lamb lying down with the lion, the valleys are filled in, the mountains made low, and our good God wipes away every tear. Thus, in our longing we desire to go to the stable in Bethlehem, where a quiet, peaceful child rests on the kind of loving breast that can provide all of us everything we ever longed for.
For months the question, “What do you want for Christmas?,” resounds and many have been making lists and checking twice, but the day after Christmas, the question changes: “What did you get for Christmas?” What we want and what we receive should have the same answer: Loved for who we are, forgiven our faults, and saved by Jesus.
Our eyes need to see Jesus, not just in a stable, but in each and every person, in every day that we have been gifted with in life. Once you begin noticing, you’ll be amazed at all the shapes and forms Jesus takes. Jesus’ spirit is there in the bagger at the grocery store, the woman crossing guard with her big smile, the elderly gentleman walking in the mall. Jesus is right there in the bright smiles of beaming children, the tears of proud parents, the embrace between lovers. Most of all, when you look into a mirror, don’t be surprised if you see the sparkle of Jesus’ spirit staring back at you!