By now, we will all, in one way or another, be thinking and talking about Christmas. Most of us have to admit that the customary way of celebrating the feast in our culture has become a mixed blessing, and perhaps even more of a burden than a blessing.
Reflection on the nature and implications of the feast over the weeks and days leading up to the actual celebration can be one way in which we may keep our priorities in order, despite the fact that we do have to be involved in the activities around us to some extent. For some, Christmas is mainly a time of intensified commercial activity; for some, it is mainly a time to 'get away from it all'; for some, it is mainly a time for food and drink and parties. For us, it should be mainly religious, not in the sense that we condemn or even avoid all non-religious celebrations, but rather in the sense that our religious understanding will dictate what we celebrate, and how we celebrate.
What we celebrate is clear. How St. Francis saw this is clear, too. In Jesus, God comes close to us, is among us, and is one of us. This mystery of God's presence was almost too much for Francis. We could read I Celano, Chap. 30, and Admonition I for our Advent/Christmas reading. There is also his much-quoted outburst in his Letter to a General Chapter.
"What an amazing degree of condescension. What amazing humility, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, should humble himself so much that for our salvation he would hide himself in the form of a small piece of bread. Consider this humility of God, brothers, and pour out your hearts before him".
How we celebrate is a personal thing, but for us, personal cannot be taken to mean entirely private, for we are community people. We are brothers because of our common Father whose Son became one of us.
Contemplation is really the only sure way for us to begin to understand God among us. Don't be afraid to kneel before the crib as Francis did and gaze beyond the immediate reality. Try to follow the advice of St. Clare:
"Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance and transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself, through contemplation".
May the Peace and Good of the Presence of God among us be our Gift to one another.