On Christmas: Where Everything Began
In the night of the world, we must let ourselves be amazed and illumined by this act of God, which is totally unexpected: God becomes a Child. We must let ourselves be amazed, illumined by the Star that inundated the universe with joy.
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic Online) – We offer the translation of the complete address from the last general audience that Pope Benedict XVI offered before Christmas, 2010:
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this last audience before the Christmas celebrations, tremulous and full of astonishment, we approach the “place” where everything began for us and for our salvation, where everything found its fulfillment, where the hopes of the world and of the human heart met and interlaced with the presence of God.
We can already have a foretaste of the joy awakened by the little light that is perceived, which from the grotto of Bethlehem begins to radiate in the world. In the Advent journey, which the liturgy has invited us to live, we have been prepared to receive readily and gratefully the great event of the coming of the Savior, to contemplate in wonder his entrance in the world.
Joyful hope, characteristic of the days that precede Holy Christmas, is certainly the essential attitude of the Christian who desires to live fruitfully the renewed encounter with him who comes to dwell in our midst: Christ Jesus, the Son of God made man. We find this disposition of the heart again, and make it our own, in those who first welcomed the coming of the Messiah: Zachariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the simple folk, and especially Mary and Joseph, who themselves felt the tremor, but above all the joy over the mystery of this birth.
The whole of the Old Testament is one great promise, which would be realized with the coming of a powerful Savior. The book of the Prophet Isaiah is a particular witness of this, as it speaks to us of the sufferings of history and of the whole of creation for a redemption destined to give back new energies and a new orientation to the whole world. Thus, next to the expectation of the personalities of sacred Scripture, our hope also finds space and meaning through the centuries, a hope which we are experiencing these days and which keeps us going during the whole of our life’s journey. In fact, the whole of human existence is animated by this profound sentiment, by the desire that what is most true, most beautiful and greatest, which we have perceived and intuited with our mind and heart, can come to meet us and become concrete before our eyes and raise us again.
“Behold, the omnipotent Lord is coming: He will be called Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us'” (Entrance Antiphon, Holy Mass of Dec. 21). During these days, we repeat these words often. In the time of the liturgy, which again actualizes the Mystery, he who is coming to save us from sin and death is already at the door, he who, after Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience, embraces us again and opens to us access to true life.
St. Irenaeus explains it in his treatise “Against the Heresies,” when he states: “The Son of God himself descended ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Romans 8:3) to condemn sin and, after having condemned it, exclude it completely from the human race. He called man to likeness with himself, he made him imitator of God, he set him on the path indicated by the Father so that he could see God, and give him as gift to the Father himself” (III, 20, 2-3).
We see some of St. Irenaeus’ favorite ideas, that God with the Child Jesus calls us to likeness with himself. We see how God is, and are thus reminded that we should be like God. That we must imitate him. God has given himself, God has given himself into our hands. We must imitate God. And finally, the idea that in this way we can see God. A central idea of St. Irenaeus: Man does not see God, he cannot see him, and so he is in darkness about the truth of himself. However man, who cannot see God, can see Jesus, and so he sees God, and begins to see the truth and thus begins to live.
Hence the Savior comes to reduce to impotence the work of evil and all that which can still keep us away from God, to restore to us the ancient splendor and primitive paternity. With his coming among us, he indicates to us and also assigns to us a task: precisely that we be like him and that we tend toward true life, to come to the vision of God in the face of Christ. St. Irenaeus affirms again: “The Word of God made his dwelling among men and made himself Son of man, to accustom man to understand God and to accustom God to dwell in man according to the will of the Father. That is why God gave us as ‘sign’ of our salvation him who, born of the Virgin, is the Emmanuel” (ibid.).
Here also there is a very beautiful central idea of St. Irenaeus: We must accustom ourselves to perceive God. God is generally distant from our lives, from our ideas, from our action. He has come to us and we must accustom ourselves to be with God. And, audaciously, Irenaeus dares to say that God must also accustom himself to be with us and in us. And that God perhaps should accompany us at Christmas, accustom ourselves to God, as God must accustom himself to us, to our poverty and frailty. Hence, the coming of the Lord can have no objective other than to teach us to see and love events, the world, and everything that surrounds us with the very eyes of God. The Word-become-a-child helps us to understand God’s way of acting, so that we will be capable of allowing ourselves to be transformed increasingly by his goodness and his infinite mercy.
In the night of the world, we must let ourselves be amazed and illumined by this act of God, which is totally unexpected: God becomes a Child. We must let ourselves be amazed, illumined by the Star that inundated the universe with joy. May the Child Jesus, in coming to us, not find us unprepared, busy only in making the exterior reality more beautiful and attractive. May the care we give to making our streets and homes more resplendent impel us even more to predispose our soul to encounter him who will come to visit us. Let us purify our conscience and our life of what is contrary to this coming: thoughts, words, attitudes and deeds — impelling us to do good and to contribute to bring about in our world peace and justice for every man and thus walk toward our encounter with the Lord.
A characteristic sign of Christmastide is the nativity scene. Also in St. Peter’s Square, in keeping with custom, it is almost ready and appears ideally over Rome and over the whole world, representing the beauty of the Mystery of God who became man and dwelt among us (cf. John 1:14). The crib is an expression of our expectation that God will come close to us, that Jesus will come close to us, but also thanksgiving for him who decided to share our human condition, in poverty and simplicity. I am happy because the tradition of preparing the crib in homes, in workplaces, in meeting places, remains alive and is even being rediscovered. May this genuine witness of Christian faith be able to offer also today for all men of good will an eloquent icon of the infinite love of the Father for us all. May the hearts of children and adults still be able to be amazed before him.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph help us to live the Mystery of Christmas with renewed gratitude to the Lord. In the midst of the frenetic activity of our days, may this time give us some calm and joy and enable us to touch with our hand the goodness of our God, who became a Child to save us and to give new encouragement and light on our journey. This is my wish for a holy and happy Christmas: I address it affectionately to all of you here present, to your families, in particular to the sick and the suffering, as well as to your communities and your loved ones.