Sunday we celebrate Christmas. It was a feast dear to Saint Francis. In fact, he encouraged his followers to fast from the Feast of All Saints until Christmas. He also requested that civil rulers and landed gentry give an extra ration of food to their animals on Christmas day.
To help ordinary people understand the feast, Francis organized a living crib in the little town of Greccio. There were sheep, other animals, an empty manger and a live couple standing in for Mary and Joseph. Francis was aware that most of his contemporaries did not understand the great humility of God, so he wanted to show them. The powerful experience of seeing real people enact the birth of Christ did the trick. The crib scene portrayed at Greccio started a trend that continues in the nativity scenes we place in our homes and in our churches today.
Francis was always thinking about the tremendous gift of Christ’s birth in the flesh. In exhorting his brothers to show special reverence to the Eucharist he praised the Mass as an extension of the incarnation. “O divine humility, o humble sublimity,” Francis wrote. He wrote of the Blessed Mother as the “virgin who became church” because she carried Jesus in her womb. Francis also wanted all of his brothers to manifest Jesus in the flesh in their lives and ministry.
Today we are called to bring forth Christ in our lives. At Christmas those who want to follow Francis do well to pray and praise Mary the Mother of God: “Hail, O Lady, holy Queen Mary, holy Mother of God: you are the virgin made church . . .”