HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
Christmas, 24 December 2001
1. "Populus, qui ambulabat in tenebris, vidit lucem magnam – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:1).
Every year we listen again to these words of the Prophet Isaiah in the moving context of the liturgical re-evocation of Christ’s Birth. Every year these words take on new meaning and cause us to relive the atmosphere of expectation and hope, of amazement and joy typical of Christmas.
To the people, oppressed and suffering, who walked in darkness, there appeared "a great light". A truly "great" light indeed, because the light which radiates from the humility of the crib is the light of the new creation. If the first creation began with light (cf. Genesis 1:3), how much more splendid and "great" is the light which inaugurates the new creation: it is God himself made man!
Christmas is an event of light, it is the feast of light: in the Child of Bethlehem the primordial light once more shines in humanity’s heaven and dissipates the clouds of sin. The radiance of God’s definitive triumph appears on the horizon of history in order to offer a new future of hope to a pilgrim people.
2. "Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone" (Isaiah 9:1).
These joyful tidings, proclaimed just now in our assembly, are also meant for us, the men and women of the dawn of the third millennium. Throughout the world the community of believers gathers in prayer to listen to it once again. Amid the cold and snow of winter or in the torrid heat of the tropics, tonight is a Holy Night for all.
Long awaited, the splendour of the new Day at last shines forth. The Messiah is born, Emmanuel, God-with-us! He is born, who was announced by the Prophets of old and long invoked by all "who dwelt in the land of gloom". In the silence and the darkness of the night, the light becomes a word and message of hope.
But does this certainty of faith not seem to clash with the way things are today? If we listen to the relentless news headlines, these words of light and hope may seem like words from a dream. But that is precisely the challenge of faith, which makes this proclamation at once comforting and demanding. It make us feel that we are wrapped in the tender love of God, while at the same time it commits us to a practical love of God and of our neighbour.
3. "The grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all" (Titus 2:11).
Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us.
The passage from the Letter to Titus which we have just heard reminds us that the birth of the Only-begotten Son of the Father has been revealed as "an offer of salvation" in every corner of the earth, at every time in history. The Child who is named "Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:5) is born for every man and woman. He brings with him the answer which can calm our fears and reinvigorate our hope.
Yes, in this night filled with sacred memories, our trust in the redemptive power of the Word made flesh is confirmed. When darkness and evil seem to prevail, Christ tells us once more: Fear not! By his coming into the world he has vanquished the power of evil, freed us from the slavery of death and brought us back to the banquet of life.
It is up to us to draw from the power of his victorious love by appropriating his "logic" of service and humility. Each of us is called to overcome with Christ "the mystery of iniquity", by becoming witnesses of solidarity and builders of peace. Let us go then to the cave of Bethlehem to meet him, and to meet, in him, all the world’s children, every one of our brothers and sisters afflicted in body or oppressed in spirit.
4. The shepherds, "once they had seen, made known what had been told them concerning this child" (Luke 2:17).
Like the shepherds, we too on this wonderful night cannot fail to experience the desire to share with others the joy of our encounter with this "child wrapped in swaddling cloths", in whom the saving power of the Almighty is revealed. We cannot pause in ecstatic contemplation of the Messiah lying in the manger, and forget our obligation to bear witness to him.
In haste we must once more set out on our journey. With joy we must leave the cave of Bethlehem in order to recount everywhere the marvel which we have witnessed. We have encountered light and life! In him, love has been bestowed upon us.
5. "A child is born to us...".
We welcome you with joy, Almighty Lord of heaven and earth, who out of love became a Child "in Judea, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem" (Luke 2:4).
We welcome you with gratitude, new Light rising in the night of the world.
We welcome you as our brother, the "Prince of Peace", who "made of the two one people" (cf. Ephesians 2:14).
Fill us with your gifts, you who did not hesitate to begin human life like us. Make us children of God, you who for our sake desired to become a son of man (cf. Saint Augustine, Homilies, 184).
You, "Wonder-Counsellor", sure promise of peace; you, powerful presence of the "God-Hero"; you, our one God, who lie poor and humble in the dim light of the stable, welcome us around your crib.
Come, peoples of the earth, open to him the doors of your history! Come to worship the Son of the Virgin Mary, who descended among us, on this night prepared for down the centuries.
Night of joy and peace.
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Friday, 24 December 2004
1. "Adoro te devote, latens Deitas."
"Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore." On this Night, the opening words of this celebrated Eucharistic hymn echo in my heart. These words accompany me daily in this year dedicated to the Eucharist.
In the Son of the Virgin, "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12), we acknowledge and adore "the Bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:41, 51), the Redeemer who came among us in order to bring life to the world.
2. Bethlehem! The city where Jesus was born in fulfilment of the Scriptures, in Hebrew means "house of bread." It was there that the Messiah was to be born, the One who would say of himself: "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35, 48).
In Bethehem was born the One who, under the sign of broken bread, would leave us the memorial of his Pasch. On this Holy Night, adoration of the Child Jesus becomes Eucharistic adoration.
3. We adore you, Lord, truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar, the living Bread which gives life to humanity. We acknowledge you as our one God, a little Child lying helpless in the manger! "In the fullness of time, you became a man among men, to unite the end to the beginning, that is, man to God" (cf. Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, IV, 20, 4).
You are born on this Night, our divine Redeemer, and, in our journey along the paths of time, you become for us the food of eternal life.
Look upon us, eternal Son of God, who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary! All humanity, with its burden of trials and troubles, stands in need of you.
Stay with us, living Bread which came down from heaven for our salvation! Stay with us forever! Amen!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Blesses Pope John Paul II, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Basilica
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.
Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.
These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?
Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.
In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.
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29 December 2013