On Christmas Eve of 1223, just a few years before his death, Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated the Feast of Christmas with the people of the Rieti Valley at Greccio. They gathered together because Francis wanted to restore the memory of the Christ child who was born in Bethlehem. His attention was focused on the simplicity, poverty, and humility of that child who was born in Bethlehem. As Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first biographer stated: “There simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, and humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.” Thomas claimed at this new Bethlehem that “the night was as the day,” so that light permeated the darkness of the world.
Francis’ desire was to show that the Light of the world who came into the world some twelve hundred years was still present in the world. Lights are one of the main symbols of the Christmas Feast. As we contemplate and enjoy the lights of Christmas, they are reminders that we are all called by the one who was the Light of the world to be bearers of light to our world.
Christmas is a celebration of peace. Francis knew that the peace which was celebrated that night can only be the result of compassion and mercy that is exhibited in our daily lives.
As the Gospel passage indicates today, the Feast of Christmas is not only about the memory of what happened two thousand years ago, but how the tender compassion of God is breaking upon us now, shining in the darkness of the world around us, even conquering the shadow of death, guiding our own feet into the way of peace. We are now the bearers of Christ’s mercy, compassion, light, and peace.
Fr. Steven McMichael, OFM Conv.