Christmas 2021

Christmas brings thoughts of St. Francis. The reverse can also be said, St. Francis brings thoughts of Christmas. If you have a crèche set up in your home, you have St. Francis to thank for that. One of the first, if not the first, crèche scenes was set up by St. Francis in the Italian town of Greccio. He wanted the people to enter the miracle and the mystery of Christmas.

Christmas was for the saint “the feast of feasts.” That is another way of saying that the incarnation, the coming into this world of the Son of God as a vulnerable baby, was for St. Francis, the most important moment in human history.

A lifetime of Christmases might make the story of Jesus, the baby born into a poor family sheltered in a stable in Bethlehem, overly familiar. But because St. Francis retained a lifelong childlikeness, Christmas was always a fresh experience, a surprise that he never got used to.

I learned a less familiar lesson about St. Francis’ love of the Christmas story many years ago, when the Franciscans purchased a building across the street from Franklin College and turned it into a novitiate, a community of young men in training to become Franciscan friars or brothers.

Those of us in the philosophy and religion department enjoyed going across the street for coffee and good conversation. In one of the conversations I had with the novice master, he shared a Franciscan perspective that I had never considered before. It was also a perspective that changed my thinking from that moment forward, a surprise that I have never gotten used to.

What the novice master shared was the Franciscan belief that God always intended to become human and be with us. A kind of light went on when I realized what that belief meant. Many Christian people, including me, were raised on the belief that Jesus came to earth, lived, and died a horrible death because humans, by sinning, had totally messed everything up. Hidden in that belief was the thought that Jesus wouldn’t have had to come into our world if we hadn’t broken things beyond repair.

What the novice master shared was that Jesus did, in fact, come as a Savior to rescue us from our lostness and brokenness. Healing that wound was and remains our greatest need. But Franciscan thought is that, had humanity not fallen into sin, God would have sent His Son into our world to share our lives, to become a friend, and to bring peace and joy to us. That’s how much God loves humanity.

This Christmastime, spare a moment to consider this thought: the baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t born because we messed everything up. The baby was born because God has always desired to know and be with you and everyone else who has ever lived and will ever live.

What is the greatest Christmas present? The presence of God in our lives.