On Preparing for Christmas

“We Must Let Ourselves Be Illumined by the Ray of Light That Comes From Bethlehem”

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

This Sunday marks the second stage of Advent. This period of the liturgical year highlights two figures who had a pre-eminent role in the preparation of Jesus Christ’s entering into history: the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. Today’s text from the Gospel of Mark focuses precisely on the latter. In fact it describes the personality and mission of the Precursor of Christ (cf. Mark 1:2-8). Beginning with externals, John is presented as a very ascetic figure: he is clothed in camel skins, he eats locusts and wild honey and he lives in the wilderness of Judea (cf. Mark 1:6). Jesus himself, once contrasted him with those “who live in the palaces of kings” and “wear soft garments” (Matthew 11:8). John the Baptist’s style should recall all Christians to choose a sober lifestyle, especially in preparation for the feast of Christmas in which the Lord — as St. Paul says — “although he was rich, became poor for your sake, that you might become rich through his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In regard to John’s mission, it was an extraordinary call to conversion: his baptism “is connected to an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” Ignatius Press, 2008, p. 14) and of the imminent appearance of the Messiah, defined as “he who is greater than me” and who “will baptize in the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8). John’s message thus goes further and deeper than a sober way of life: it calls us to interior change, beginning with the acknowledgement and confession of our sin. As we prepare ourselves for Christmas, it is important that we look within ourselves and we sincerely reflect on our life. We must let ourselves be illumined by the ray of light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of him who is “the greater one” and made himself small, the “strongest one” and made himself weak.

All four of the evangelists describe the preaching of John the Baptist making reference to a passage of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice cries out: in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). Mark also inserts a citation from another prophet, Malachi, which says: “Behold, I send my messenger before you: he will prepare your way” (Mark 1:2; cf. Malachi 3:1). These references to the scriptures of the Old Testament “speak of a saving intervention of God, who emerges from his hiddenness to judge and save; it is for this God that the door is to be opened and the way made ready” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” p. 15).

To the maternal intercession of Mary, the Virgin of expectation, let us entrust our path toward the Lord, while we continue our Advent itinerary of making our heart and our life ready for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

[Following the recitation of the Angelus the Holy Father addressed the faithful in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters!

In the upcoming days in Geneva and in other cities the 50th anniversary of the institution of the International Organization for Migration, the 60th anniversary of the convention on the status of refugees and the 50th anniversary of the convention on the reduction of cases of statelessness will be marked. I entrust to the Lord those who must — and often are forced — to leave their own country or are deprived of citizenship. While I encourage solidarity with them, I pray for all those who expend themselves to protect and assist these brothers in these emergency situations, even exposing themselves to great toil and danger.

[In English he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. Today we mark the second Sunday of Advent by a Gospel passage where John the Baptist calls us to conversion. May we heed his call to repentance and ask the Lord to forgive us our sins, so that Emmanuel, God-with-us, may find us ready when he comes. Upon each of you and your loved ones at home, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

[Concluding in Italian he said:]

A wish everyone a good Sunday. Have a good Sunday and a good week! Thank you!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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