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Christmas Presence
Christmas Presence

What Are We Waiting For?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Father Richard Rohr describes how Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) shaped Christianity’s celebration of Christmas.

In the first 1200 years of Christianity, the most prominent feast was Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Around 1200, Francis of Assisi entered the scene, and he felt we didn’t need to wait for God to love us through the cross and resurrection. He believed God loved us from the very beginning and showed this love by becoming incarnate in Jesus. He popularized what we take for granted today, the great Christian feast of Christmas. But Christmas only started being popular in the 13th century.

The main point I want to make is the switch in theological emphasis that took place. The Franciscans realized that if God had become flesh and taken on materiality, physicality, and humanity, then the problem of our unworthiness was solved from the very beginning! God “saved” us by becoming one of us!

Franciscans fasted a lot in those days, as many Christians did, and Francis went so wild over Christmas that he said, “On Christmas Day, I want even the walls to eat meat!” [1] He said that every tree should be decorated with lights to show that that is its true nature. That’s what Christians around the world still do eight hundred years later.

But remember, when we speak of Advent or waiting and preparing for Christmas, we’re not simply waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened two thousand years ago. We’re forever welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history.

Franciscan sister and theologian Ilia Delio invites us to consider Advent as a time to wake up to God’s incarnate presence:

The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning arrival, “coming.” . . .

[But] if God has already come to us, what are we waiting for? If God has already become incarnate in Jesus what are we waiting for? And I think that’s a really interesting question. . . .

We’re called to awaken to what’s already in our midst. . . . I think Advent is a coming to a new consciousness of God, you know, already loving us into something new, into something more whole, that we’re not in a sense waiting for what’s not there; we’re in a sense to be attending to what’s already there.

But the other part I think is that we can think of Advent as God waiting for us to wake up! You know, as if we’re asleep in the manger, not Jesus! Jesus is alive in our midst. . . . What if we’re in the manger and God is already awakened in our midst and we’re so fallen asleep, we’re so unconsciously asleep that God is sort of looking for “someone [to] get up and help bring the gifts into the world?” . . .

Let’s awaken to what God is doing in us and what God is seeking to become in us.

[1] Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, chapter 151. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, ed. Regis J. Armstong, J. Wayne Hellman, William J. Short (New City Press: 2000), 374.

Adapted from An Advent Reflection with Father Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017) video.

Ilia Delio, “Moving Onwards Forward: An Advent Message from Ilia Delio,” New Creation, November 15, 2018 (Center for Christogenesis: 2018), video.

Story from Our Community:
We are all called to be Mary. Our job is willingness; God’s job is transformation. I have my sister’s beautiful Nativity scene displayed in my living room—I often gaze at it and the word that comes to me is “vulnerability.” Vulnerability is very challenging but vital to spiritual growth. —Carol C.

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Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: Jesus came as an ordinary person. This small, simple, beautiful bud—with its extraordinary ordinariness—reminds us to see the goodness in creation and be present to this moment, right here, right now.
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