* * *
Dear brothers and sisters!
This Sunday’s liturgy re-proposes to us, in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, the deepest meaning of Jesus’ birth. He is the Word of God who became man and pitched his “tent,” his dwelling, among men. The Evangelist writes: “The Word became flesh and came to live among us” (John 1:14). In these words, which never cease to astound us, is the whole of Christianity! God became mortal, fragile like us, he shared our human condition, except for sin, but took our sins upon himself as if they were his own. He entered into our history, he fully became God-with-us! Jesus’ birth, then, shows us that God wanted to unite himself to every man and woman, to each one of us, to communicate his life and his joy.
So, God is God with us, God who loves us, God who walks with us. This is the message of Christmas: the Word became flesh. Thus, Christmas reveals God’s immense love for humanity. From here stems the enthusiasm, the hope of Christians, who in our poverty know that we are loved, visited and accompanied by God; and we look at the world and at history as the place in which to walk together with him and with each other, toward the new heaven and the new earth. With the birth of Jesus a new promise is born, a new world is born, but also a world that can always be renewed. God is always present to raise up new men, to purify the world from the sin that makes it old, from the sin that corrupts it. As much as human history and our own personal history can be marked by difficulties and weaknesses, faith in the Incarnation tells us that God is solidary with man and his history. This closeness of God to man, to every man, and to each of us, is a gift that never fades away! He is with us! He is God with us! This is the good news of Christmas: the divine light, which flooded the hearts of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and guided the steps of the shepherds and the magi, also shines for us today.
In the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God there is also an aspect connected to human freedom, to the freedom of each one of us. In fact, the Word of God pitched his tent among us, sinners and needful of mercy. And we must all make haste to receive the grace that he offers us. But, St. John’s Gospel continues, “his own did not welcome him” (1:11). We too often reject him, we prefer to remain closed up in our errors and the anxiety of our sins. But Jesus does not desist and does not cease to offer himself and his grace that save us! Jesus is patient, Jesus knows how to wait, he always waits for us. This is a message of hope, a message of salvation, ancient and ever new. And we are called to bear witness with joy to this message of the Gospel of life, the Gospel of light, of hope and love, because this is Jesus’ message: life, light, hope, love.
May Mary, the Mother of God and our tender Mother, sustain us always so that we remain faithful to the Christian vocation and make the justice and peace that we desire at beginning of this new year a reality.
[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father made further remarks and greeted those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.]
Dear brothers and sisters,
In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas season, I would like to announce that May 24-26, if it pleases God, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The principal purpose of this trip is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, which occurred exactly 50 years ago today, January 5. There will be 3 stops: Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. 3 days. At the Holy Sepulcher we will celebrate an ecumenical meeting with all of the representatives of the Christian Churches of Jerusalem, together with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Until then I ask for your prayers for this pilgrimage, which will be a pilgrimage of prayer.
In recent weeks many Christmas and New Years greetings have been sent to me from all over the world. I would like to reply to all of them but, unfortunately, it is impossible! So, from my heart I would like to thank the children for their drawings. They are truly beautiful! Children draw beautiful pictures! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I thank the children first of all. I thank the young people, the elderly, the families, the parish and religious communities, the associations, the movements and the different groups that wished to show me their affection and nearness. I ask everyone to continue to pray for me, I need it, and to pray for this service to the Church.
And now I greet with affection you, dear pilgrims who are present here today, especially the Associazione Italiana Maestri Cattolici (Italian Association of Catholic Teachers). I encourage you in your educational work; it is very important! I greet the faithful from Arco di Trento and Bellona, the young people from Induno Olona and the groups from Crema and Mantova who work with disabled people. I also greet the large group of Brazilian sailors.
I wish all of you a good Sunday and a good lunch. Goodbye!
[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]