The grandkids never get tired of playing with the figures in the Creche. We tell the story. We sing the Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger.” They get it. They are not alone. St. Francis of Assisi loved the story. His life was changed because of it. He wanted others to share and join and celebrate with him. St. Francis was the one who said, “preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” For St. Francis and his thirteenth century band of brothers: actions speak louder than words. This was no cliché. Rather it is a way a way of life.
Legend has it, St. Francis was concerned over the lackadaisical attitude so many adults had towards Christmas Eve. For many, it was like any other night. Back then, they did not play video games, or watch endless hours of TV to dull their brains, but they sure could drink their wine. And they did. The next morning was like any other morning. Nothing had changed the dreariness and dullness of those dark ages except maybe a pounding headache.
St. Francis prayed for a different way to share the Gospel story and on one Christmas Eve he went to the village of Greccio and there on the edge of the village was a cave where he invited the townsfolk to join him and his brothers. When all gathered, Francis told the people about the shepherds. At that moment, a few of the monks then appeared dressed as shepherds leading with them a few live sheep. The townspeople people came closer and petted the sheep and waved to the shepherds. Francis then told them shepherds were considered to be the lowliest of people because they were out in the fields all day and night and dirty from their constant care of sheep. In biblical times they were considered “unclean” and not invited into the Temple for the ritual ceremonies because of their filth. Yet, the birth of Jesus changed the narrative as the shepherds were the first to hear the angel’s announcement. “Fear not.” They fell to the ground when they heard a child, a Savior, a Prince of Peace was to be born withing their midst.
So, the monks dressed like shepherds fell to the ground, and the townspeople were awed by this news as smiles and tears of joy began to breakout. They identified not only with the shepherds but with the presence of God who was now born in their midst. This newborn baby represented new life and love God brings to all people. They knew first-hand the birth of Jesus is a miracle to behold and don’t you know—if one miracle can happen right before their eyes—then watch again for another miracle and another as they live their lives day in and day out with God and the Holy One named Jesus, or as in the Old Testament “Joshua” the one who saves.
St. Francis, of course, was not through with the story as he told of the innkeeper who said “no room” and with that, the townspeople frowned and hissed, but Francis told them the story did not end. It continues with the endurance of Mary and Joseph making their way to the manger with cows and donkeys and with that, Francis encouraged the people to touch the animals and come closer. There in the cave they saw a young girl from town with a carpenter kneeling before a food trough with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. With St. Francis and all his brothers the townspeople gathered as they knew the story was for real as they kneeled away in a manger.