Francis of Assisi Natiity Scene in Greccio

Christmas Franciscan History Saint Francis

Advent’s Hope

Advent – the hope of all hopes. Our celebration of Christmas should be about the day Earth’s humanity met with Heaven’s Divinity. ‘The Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us’. It wasn’t just the fact that Jesus came to Earth, it was the way he did it.

The Isle of Wight Franciscan Group met on 3rd December for their formation topic of ‘Hope’. Below is a reflection on Advent’s Hope written by Father Vincent Fortunato, a Franciscan Capuchin Friar from the United States and a downloadable pdf of one of the handouts we used.

 Download Handout About the Christian Virtue of Hope

 

The Hope of Advent

There is a common image many people share the night before Christmas. A little child goes to bed on Christmas Eve with the excitement of what Santa will bring on Christmas Day — a child with a sense of wonder and awe of what may happen in the morning. It is this excitement that is stored in the child’s memory for years to come. It is the beginning of wonder and awe building our hopes as we anticipate something great.

The word “advent” means an anticipation of the arrival of a person or an event. Advent is the season that reminds us of an arrival of something great. As a season in the Church, it is placed at the beginning of the Church year. It is the beginning of a new spiritual journey for each of us. We are reminded once again that the promise God made about our salvation has come. This promise is the true hope beyond any other hope we have. We build our traditions around this time to remind us of that great mystery of Christ’s coming for our salvation.

ANTICIPATION OF JESUS:

Since the season of Advent is about hope, what is our understanding of this gift? To hope in something is to have an anticipation that something new is about to happen. It is a desire with an expectation of obtaining something more. There are different levels of hope we experience throughout our life. Hope touches our desires, and our desires grow and change. The little child before Christmas has a basic desire that is different than, say, a desire for a job promotion o a pay rise. A young couple about to get married have the hope of so many possibilities and dreams lived together.

There is the excitement of the unknown when we are about to make a decision in our life. From a spiritual place, we can desire to grow deeper in our relationship with God. All of these desires are an expectation of obtaining something. One of the common experiences of hope is that it is dependent on someone or something else. All of these desires can be filled with an excitement and anticipation. But what happens when over time that sense of hope grows dim? What happens when the one we depend on to make this hope come alive doesn’t come through for us? This is a reality of life.

FIGHTING DISCOURAGEMENT:

This dependence can be filled with limitations or disappointments. We can tire of waiting. In our spiritual life, we can stop praying when we feel our prayer is not being heard. The Israelites seemed to continually become impatient with Moses and God. They grew tired of waiting, despite all God had done for them. Instead, they chose to worship a molten calf (Ex 32:1-11). The disciples of Jesus lost a sense of hope in him when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn 6:51-66). This becomes too much for them to comprehend, and they turn away from all they hoped for and wonder if this really is the one who is to come. For the disciples and Israelites, their disappointment became greater than their hope.

image of beautiful purple night with bethlehem star

We are not much different than many of those who have gone before us. The waiting can cause us to lose hope. We can forget and become discouraged when that hope grows dim. It is not difficult to fall into a mode of settling. The place of settling is when the future grows dim and we begin to believe all we have is our present situation. How often we hear, “Well, that’s as good as it gets,” or, “That’s the way it is.” How sad that our memory can fade — the memories that once were filled with awe and wonder. When we settle, we can become cynical and even hopeless. A fire that once burned inside us flickers out.

THE SUNDAYS OF ADVENT

The season of Advent is meant to give us that time to help us slow things down and remember. Each year, we can begin anew, remembering once again the hope that was promised to us. As we follow the readings during Advent, we hear the development of hope.

The First Sunday of Advent, we are reminded not to live in a place of settling but to live in a place of being awake and aware. If we are living in anticipation of something more, we don’t need to know the time nor the hour, because we are living in the place of hope. We are reminded to live in hope, not in complacency.

The Second Sunday, John the Baptist reminds the Jews not to presume or rely on the fact that they are ancestors of Abraham but to repent from their ways so they will be prepared for Christ who will come to baptise in the Spirit, the reality of hope.

The Third Sunday, Jesus gives an answer to John the Baptist’s question of, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus tells the disciples to let John the Baptist know who he is by what he brings: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise and, most important, the poor have the Good News brought to them.

The Fourth Sunday reveals to us the message that has been revealed through Joseph: the message that Mary is to bring the promised one into the world to save us from our sins. These readings are given to us to remember what God has promised.

TIME TO REMEMBER: A Hope Beyond all Hopes

The hope that comes to us from Advent is a hope that is beyond all other hopes. It is not just an anticipation of something to come but one that goes beyond all our hopes and desires. In 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that hope is built on memory: “Advent is concerned with the very connection between memory and hope.”

This is not just hope, but it is an Advent hope. It is the truth and expectation that God is working in our life now, in our present moment. It is a promise that what we hope for in his name is obtainable. It is a time to remember that the salvation God promised throughout all of history has already come, and we live in the hope of that salvation. We cannot settle for just the way things are, but must live in the awe and wonder of the memory of God’s promise.

The above is written by Father Vincent Fortunato – Franciscan Capuchin Friar. He lives in Delaware, USA where he teaches spiritual direction and leads retreats.

THE FIRST NATIVITY CRIB

Our celebration of Christmas should be about the day Earth’s humanity met with Heaven’s Divinity. ‘The Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us’. It wasn’t just the fact that Jesus came to Earth, it was the way he did it — with humility, poverty of self, love, acceptance and an open invitation to us. All he wants is for us to follow his example to our Heavenly Father.

Today to help us focus on the stable at Bethlehem we might set up a nativity Scene with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds with their sheep, the Wise Men and the infant Son of God in a manger. It was St Francis who in December 1223 created the first ever nativity scene not in a church but in a cave in Greccio, Italy. “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” (St Bonaventure)

Benozzo Gozzoli Montefalco St Franics Nativity Scene
Artwork by Benozzo Gozzoli from a fresco series titled the “Life of Francis’ to be found in the Franciscan monastery church in Montefalco painted during 1450-1452

 

“There Simplicity was honoured, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem. The night was lit up as the day, and was delightful to men and beasts … [Francis] stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy. The solemnities of Mass were celebrated over the manger, and the priest enjoyed a new consolation.” (Thomas of Celano)

It was through these visual and tactile aids that Francis hoped and helped others to feel and know how Jesus entered the world, in God-chosen poverty and simplicity. This is part of Francis’ own charism of simple, holy poverty, smallness of self and a true love of Jesus. Francis didn’t just want to imitate Christ he wanted to be as Jesus, to live in the light of God, as a Child of God.

 

 

Elizabeth is a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and lives on the Isle of Wight where she enjoys walks along the beach with Alfie her Cairn Terrier. She has had an interest in Franciscan Spirituality for over 20 years.