Advent is perhaps the most challenging liturgical season for Christians. The secular world has kidnapped this time intended for quiet reflection and turned it into a time of premature celebration. During Advent, we spend four weeks trying to balance ourselves. Like standing in the middle of a seesaw, we often have one foot in the materialistic world of gifts, decorating and parties, while the other foot is in the spiritual world of prayerfully expecting the miracle of Christ’s birth.
A Christmas tradition started by St. Francis may help us keep our focus more on the coming miracle than the latest sales. By choosing the name of Francis, our Holy Father has called the world to pay more attention to the beloved saint from Assisi, who taught us to live simply and care for the poor. One way St. Francis reminded us of our Lord’s kinship with the poor was through the Nativity scene. We may think the Nativity scene is as ancient as the celebration of Christmas itself. Yet, Nativity scenes were unheard of until St. Francis set up the first one in a cave outside of Greccio, Italy, in 1223.
Because St. Francis was afraid his idea might be too radical, he petitioned Pope Honorius III for permission to re-create the scene of our Lord’s birth. His goal was to remind people of the poverty into which Christ chose to be born. He felt the faithful were missing the message of the Gospel because they were too enmeshed in materialism. Sound familiar?
We may be able to keep our balance a little better this Advent by focusing on the rich symbolism of the Nativity scene. Inspiring words from Pope Francis, weekly Scripture readings and simple prayers can also help us find new ways to make this season of Advent a time of prayerful preparation, mercy, joy and expectation.
Susan M. Erschen writes from Missouri.
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