It seems that with every passing year, Christmas comes earlier and earlier…..or rather, what comes earlier and earlier is the setting-teeth-on-edge, nerve-fraying rampant materialism that has been foisted upon us by a secular society increasingly determined to rewrite what Christmas actually means.
Interestingly enough, this materialistic view is not unique to our day. In fact, it was in response to the heavy emphasis on gift giving and secular materialism that inspired Saint Francis of Assisi to redirect the focus of Christmas upon the birth of Jesus by creating the first (live) nativity scene in a cave outside the town of Greccio, Italy in 1223. In his biography of Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure describes Francis’ efforts:
“Now three years before his death it befell that he was minded, at the town of Greccio, to celebrate the memory of the Birth of the Child Jesus, with all the added solemnity that he might, for the kindling of devotion. That this might not seem an innovation, he sought and obtained license from the Supreme Pontiff, and then made ready a manger, and bade hay, together with an ox and an ass, be brought unto the spot. The Brethren were called together, the folk assembled, the wood echoed with their voices, and that august night was made radiant and solemn with many bright lights, and with tuneful and sonorous praises. The man of God, filled with tender love, stood before the manger, bathed in tears, and overflowing with joy. Solemn Masses were celebrated over the manger, Francis, the Levite of Christ, chanting the Holy Gospel. Then he preached unto the folk standing round of the Birth of the King in poverty, calling Him, when he wished to name Him, the Child of Bethlehem, by reason of his tender love for Him. A certain knight, valorous and true, Master John of Greccio, who for the love of Christ had left the secular army, and was bound by closest friendship unto the man of God, declared that he beheld a little Child right fair to see sleeping in that manger. Who seemed to be awakened from sleep when the blessed Father Francis embraced Him in both arms. This vision of the devout knight is rendered worthy of belief, not alone through the holiness of him that beheld it, but is also confirmed by the truth that it set forth, and withal proven by the miracles that followed it. For the example of Francis, if meditated upon by the world, must needs stir up sluggish hearts unto the faith of Christ, and the hay that was kept back from the manger by the folk proved a marvelous remedy for sick beasts, and against diverse other plagues, God magnifying by all means His servant, and making manifest by clear and miraculous portents the efficacy of his holy prayers.”
As we behold the Infant Savior resting in the crèche in our home and church, let us give Him primacy of place as is right over the secular materialism that would relegate Him into the shadows, as if He were nothing more than a footnote. Let us contemplate His incomprehensible love, that the author of life and light, who was with God, who is God, whom all the heavens cannot contain, reached down to us, became the least among us – a tiny, helpless infant – so that by His birth, death and resurrection He might gain for us eternal life! Let’s remember Christ at Christmas.