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Christmas - Natale - Navidad - Noël 2005

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at Christmas Midnight Mass
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

""The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you". With these words of the second Psalm, the Church begins the Vigil Mass of Christmas, at which we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ our Redeemer in a stable in Bethlehem. This Psalm was once a part of the coronation rite of the kings of Judah. The People of Israel, in virtue of its election, considered itself in a special way a son of God, adopted by God. Just as the king was the personification of the people, his enthronement was experienced as a solemn act of adoption by God, whereby the King was in some way taken up into the very mystery of God. At Bethlehem night, these words, which were really more an expression of hope than a present reality, took on new and unexpected meaning. The Child lying in the manger is truly God’s Son. God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But there is more: in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself, God from God, became man. To him the Father says: "You are my son". God’s everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendour and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are my son, this day I have begotten you". God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendour of that "today", of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield – it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.

Let us listen to a second phrase from the liturgy of this holy Night, one taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Upon the people who walked in darkness a great light has shone" (Is 9, 1). The word "light" pervades the entire liturgy of tonight’s Mass. It is found again in the passage drawn from St Paul’s letter to Titus: "The grace of God has appeared" (2, 11). The expression "has appeared", in the original Greek says the same thing that was expressed in Hebrew by the words "a light has shone": this "apparition" – this "epiphany" – is the breaking of God’s light upon a world full of darkness and unsolved problems. The Gospel then relates that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and "shone around them" (Lk 2, 9). Wherever God’s glory appears, light spreads throughout the world. St John tells us that "God is light and in him is no darkness" (1 Jn 1, 5). The light is a source of life.

But first, light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory – the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them". Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up – charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the Saints – from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta – we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with his own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.

Along with the Christmas tree, our Austrian friends have also brought us a small flame lit in Bethlehem, as if to say that the true mystery of Christmas is the inner brightness radiating from this Child. May that inner brightness spread to us, and kindle in our hearts the flame of God’s goodness; may all of us, by our love, bring light to the world! Let us keep this light-giving flame, lit in faith, from being extinguished by the cold winds of our time! Let us guard it faithfully and give it to others! On this night, when we look towards Bethlehem, let us pray in a special way for the birthplace of our Redeemer and for the men and women who live and suffer there. We wish to pray for peace in the Holy Land: Look, O Lord, upon this corner of the earth, your Homeland, which is so very dear to you! Let your light shine upon it! Let it know peace!

The word "peace" brings us to a third key to the liturgy of this holy Night. The Child foretold by Isaiah is called "Prince of Peace". His kingdom is said to be one "of endless peace". The shepherds in the Gospel hear the glad tidings: "Glory to God in the highest" and "on earth, peace...". At one time we used to say: "to men of good will". Nowadays we say "to those whom God loves". What does this change mean? Is good will no longer important? We would do better to ask: who are those whom God loves, and why does he love them? Does God have favourites? Does he love only certain people, while abandoning the others to themselves? The Gospel answers these questions by pointing to some particular people whom God loves. There are individuals, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna. But there are also two groups of people: the shepherds and the Wise Men from the East, the "Magi". Tonight let us look at the shepherds. What kind of people were they? In the world of their time, shepherds were looked down upon; they were considered untrustworthy and not admitted as witnesses in court. But really, who were they? To be sure, they were not great saints, if by that word we mean people of heroic virtue. They were simple souls. The Gospel sheds light on one feature which later on, in the words of Jesus, would take on particular importance: they were people who were watchful. This was chiefly true in a superficial way: they kept watch over their flocks by night. But it was also true in a deeper way: they were ready to receive God’s Word through the Angel's proclamation. Their life was not closed in on itself; their hearts were open. In some way, deep down, they were waiting for something; they were waiting for God. Their watchfulness was a kind of readiness – a readiness to listen and to set out. They were waiting for a light which would show them the way. That is what is important for God. He loves everyone, because everyone is his creature. But some persons have closed their hearts; there is no door by which his love can enter. They think that they do not need God, nor do they want him. Other persons, who, from a moral standpoint, are perhaps no less wretched and sinful, at least experience a certain remorse. They are waiting for God. They realize that they need his goodness, even if they have no clear idea of what this means. Into their expectant hearts God’s light can enter, and with it, his peace. God seeks persons who can be vessels and heralds of his peace. Let us pray that he will not find our hearts closed. Let us strive to be active heralds of his peace – in the world of today.

Among Christians, the word "peace" has taken on a very particular meaning: it has become a word to designate communion in the Eucharist. There Christ’s peace is present. In all the places where the Eucharist is celebrated, a great network of peace spreads through the world. The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself. When we celebrate the Eucharist we find ourselves in Bethlehem, in the "house of bread". Christ gives himself to us and, in doing so, gives us his peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world. And so we pray: Lord, fulfil your promise! Where there is conflict, give birth to peace! Where there is hatred, make love spring up! Where darkness prevails, let light shine! Make us heralds of your peace! Amen."

Papa Benedetto's Urbi et Orbi Message on Christmas Day
St Peter's Square, 25 December 2005 - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

""I bring you good news of great joy … for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2, 10-11).

Last night we heard once more the Angel’s message to the shepherds, and we experienced anew the atmosphere of that holy Night, Bethlehem Night, when the Son of God became man, was born in a lowly stable and dwelt among us. On this solemn day, the Angel’s proclamation rings out once again, inviting us, the men and women of the third millennium, to welcome the Saviour. May the people of today’s world not hesitate to let him enter their homes, their cities, their nations, everywhere on earth! In the millennium just past, and especially in the last centuries, immense progress was made in the areas of technology and science. Today we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart. That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being.

Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man" (St Augustine, Sermo 185). Wake up, O men and women of the third millennium!

At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human. By knocking at our door, he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives. The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity’s enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world. For this reason, the words of the Christmas Gospel: "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into this world" (Jn 1, 9) resound now more than ever as a proclamation of salvation. "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Church does not tire of repeating this message of hope reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which concluded 40 years ago.

Men and women of today, humanity come of age yet often still so frail in mind and will, let the Child of Bethlehem take you by the hand! Do not fear; put your trust in him! The life-giving power of his light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic relationships. May his love guide every people on earth and strengthen their common consciousness of being a "family" called to foster relationships of trust and mutual support. A united humanity will be able to confront the many troubling problems of the present time: from the menace of terrorism to the humiliating poverty in which millions of human beings live, from the proliferation of weapons to the pandemics and the environmental destruction which threatens the future of our planet.

May the God who became man out of love for humanity strengthen all those in Africa who work for peace, integral development and the prevention of fratricidal conflicts, for the consolidation of the present, still fragile political transitions, and the protection of the most elementary rights of those experiencing tragic humanitarian crises, such as those in Darfur and in other regions of central Africa. May he lead the peoples of Latin America to live in peace and harmony. May he grant courage to people of good will in the Holy Land, in Iraq, in Lebanon, where signs of hope, which are not lacking, need to be confirmed by actions inspired by fairness and wisdom; may he favour the process of dialogue on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere in the countries of Asia, so that, by the settlement of dangerous disputes, consistent and peaceful conclusions can be reached in a spirit of friendship, conclusions which their peoples expectantly await.

At Christmas we contemplate God made man, divine glory hidden beneath the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; the Creator of the Universe reduced to the helplessness of an infant. Once we accept this paradox, we discover the Truth that sets us free and the Love that transforms our lives. On Bethlehem Night, the Redeemer becomes one of us, our companion along the precarious paths of history. Let us take the hand which he stretches out to us: it is a hand which seeks to take nothing from us, but only to give.

With the shepherds let us enter the stable of Bethlehem beneath the loving gaze of Mary, the silent witness of his miraculous birth. May she help us to experience the happiness of Christmas, may she teach us how to treasure in our hearts the mystery of God who for our sake became man; and may she help us to bear witness in our world to his truth, his love and his peace.
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BXVI - St Peter's Square, the Vatican, Christmas Day, 25th December 2005