Seriously, we celebrated Christmas today. We bid farewell to Assisi amid a strong, cold wind coupled with some serious drizzle and we headed for the Rieti Valley to the little town of Greccio where Francis in 1223 decided to help the people of the small village come to a deeper significance of what Christmas meant for them and everyone.
Francis felt a special bond with the people of Greccio, who welcomed him and listened to him and who were, for the most part, poor as church mice. He wanted them to understand the significance of Christmas and the Incarnation by planning a surprise for them on the evening of the 24th. As we stood on the terrace overlooking the valley so that we could get a sense of the space, Sister Nancy asked us to close our eyes. ‘Imagine it is evening; a torchlight procession comes from the village to this sanctuary high on the mountain. Inside, there is a live ox and donkey, as well as straw strewn in a manger. Imagine the sight, the smell, and the sound.’ Francis wanted the people to realize that Christ came into our world, their world, a world of smell, sight, sound, taste and touch. (Nancy said that every time Francis would mention the name of the Christ child in his proclamation of the Gospel or in his homily, he would lick his lips because this Word among us is sweeter than honey.) He comes into this world every time the Eucharist is celebrated. What a great gift to all of us. Our God doesn’t come to us in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, whether we are rich or poor, wise or foolish, powerful or powerless.
I have to say that Nancy’s meditation (and I readily admit that I am not doing
justice to it) and Steve’s homily really sealed for me the significance of our Incarnational theology, which, unfortunately, we often take for granted. Yes, God is totally other; God’s ways are not our ways, yet, God chose to become like us in all things, save sin. WOW! Christmas took on a whole new meaning for me today.
We walked through the sanctuary and saw the cave where tradition says that Francis celebrated Christmas in this manner. There is a beautiful fresco on the wall of the cave which depicts the Nativity. Mary is shown nursing the infant.. Joseph, in this image has his head in his chin, a convention in art to show that the person is dreaming. “Joseph, have no fear of taking Mary as your wife.” “Joseph, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt for Herod seeks to destroy.” “Joseph, it is safe to return home to Nazareth.” Like another dreamer, this Joseph listened to his dreams and followed them.