VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2005 ( Christmas is the greatness of God who becomes small so that we can love him, says Benedict XVI.

In the homily at his first Christmas Eve Midnight Mass as Pope, he contemplated the mystery of Bethlehem and implored for peace in the land of Jesus' birth.

"God is so great that he can become small," the Holy Father told the faithful in a crowded St. Peter's Basilica. "God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless child, so that we can love him."

Addressing 9,000 faithful, some of whom had waited for hours before entering the basilica, the Pontiff explained that God "is so good that he can give up his divine splendor 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," he said on a serene night in Rome. "God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him."

The Holy Father's words were broadcast by 122 television channels from 74 countries.

Child in a stable

"As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: This is how God is," he observed. "This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendor 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."

"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," Benedict XVI he continued.

This year in the Vatican a flame is shining, brought from Bethlehem by the Austrian delegation that gave the Pope the Christmas tree. The flame indicates, the Pope said, that "the true mystery of Christmas is the inner brightness radiating from this Child."

"On this night," he added, "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!" implored the Holy Father.

"That is what is important for God. He loves everyone, because everyone is his creature," said the Bishop of Rome. "God seeks persons who can be vessels and heralds of peace.

"Lord, fulfill 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."