BETHLEHEM, West Bank, DEC. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily delivered by Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem during Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
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“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:2)
Dear brothers and sisters,
In my name and the name of the inhabitants of Bethlehem, I greet our guests and the pilgrims in the Holy Land. I greet Mr. President of the Palestinian Authority and the delegation accompanying him and I wish all a happy feast and a new year of peace, stability and security.
Shadows covered the universe and all peoples of the earth were slaves of evil and sin. This country was burdened under the yoke of the Roman Empire and the people were waiting for a Savior who would restore royal rule and make them free. On that night, the will of God entered human history through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Son of God and of the Virgin Mary. The fullness of time had come. Salvation had begun…
A decree was issued by Caesar Augustus, ordering a census of all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire, each one in his own country of origin. In the town of Beit Sahour, shepherds were guarding their flocks. The night is dark and cold, without a moon. The universe can wait no longer… then suddenly a light shines out, and the host of angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom He favors…” (Lk 2:14) and they announce to the shepherds: “To you is born this day a Savior” (Lk 2:11).
On that night, Christ divides history into two parts: since then, there is a before Him and an after Him. That which was impossible before Him, becomes possible. We celebrate today that blessed night that changed the course of history, hearts full of joy. We who come from different countries, some nearby and others far off, like the shepherds, we surround the Child in the Grotto this night in order to adore Him and thank Him for having illuminated our history through His Incarnation.
Welcome to this divine Child! Welcome to the Christmas message and the joy of Christmas and the Christmas presents which bring back the smile to the faces of both the little and the big. This new Child is the fruit of the love of the Eternal Father for humankind, a love which desires for us more than we desire for ourselves. It wants a peace that we have lost, a loss to which we have resigned ourselves; mutual love which no longer exists to the point that it has disappeared even from our vocabulary; respect and dignity, so often battered by maltreatment, by insults and the spilling of blood.
Indeed, welcome to this Child who reminds us of our own childhood, sweetness and gentleness in a world that values hardness, having contempt for weakness and fear, taking pleasure in hatred and disrespect.
On this night, the silence of the grotto will be even louder than the voice of the canons and submachine guns. The silence of the grotto gives life to those whose voice has been suffocated by tears and who have sought refuge in silence and impotence.
Around the star that marks the place of the Nativity of Jesus, a few meters from here, history has inscribed its word: “Here Christ is born”. Indeed, here in Bethlehem Christ is born, here the angels sang out “Glory to God in the highest heaven” and they proclaimed to us “To you is born this day a Savior”. This is the reason for our great joy. So, like the shepherds, we too go to visit the place of His birth. The Immanuel is with us. He pitched His tent among us. We must belong to Him, obey Him and adore Him.
The birth of Jesus gave rise to new life for the pastors and the magi, whose hearts He opened, whose way and conscience He clarified: “This will be a sign for you – you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). By visiting Bethlehem and the crèche and adoring the Child, the pastors have become the prototype of those who stand watch and wait the return of their master.
With the conversion of the shepherds, the process of faith in God become flesh began. Coming to adore the Child, they also traced out the route that pilgrims would take towards this holy place.
God made Bethlehem His home and His meeting place with men.
Bethlehem, city of peace, of divine love and of reconciliation. The one who could heal the sick and resurrect the dead is also able to gather people in peace and security. The one who taught love, justice, equality, is also able to make of the poor grotto a school of reconciliation, where leaders and those responsible for the destinies of peoples are taught what good, what justice and what stability mean.
Peace is a right for all men. It is also the solution for all conflicts and differences. War does not produce peace, prisons do not guarantee stability. The highest of walls do not assure security. Neither the aggressor nor the aggressed enjoy peace. Peace is a gift of God and only God can give that peace: “My peace I give to you” Jesus says. “I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn 14:27).
Oh Child of Bethlehem, our wait has been long and we are worn out by our situation, we are tired of ourselves too. We seek after everything except You, we cling to everything except You, we listen to everything except to You… We are taken in by beautiful speeches and promises. The cry of the widows and the children is mixed with the noise of canons and submachine guns, we tear the heart and shatter the silence of the grotto and of the crèche.
We have a great need for calm, for silence! We have a great need for peace! Of that we are sure! However, more than anything else, we need childhood and innocence. You, the poor one, despite Your smallness, Your weakness and Your poverty, You alone are able to give us what we lack. O Child of Bethlehem, come so that the feast might be more a feast!
Welcome to You, who teaches us that love is a continuing martyrdom, and that the martyr for love, for peace and for justice never dies.
Welcome to You, who reminds us that richness is in giving and in reconciliation, that greatness resides in humility and gentleness.
Welcome to You who reminds us by your birth and by your death that only love constructs, and that its power is mightier than all because it becomes food for the hungry, clothing for the naked and an extended hand to all men, healing and reconciling, beyond all divisions, barriers and hatred.
On this blessed night, we launch an appeal for pardon to all nations, all individuals and families. May God who forgives us our sins, give us the courage, the power and the love to pardon those who have trespassed against us.
Peace to Bethlehem and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land.
Peace to all pilgrims and visitors.
Peace to all who seek peace.
+ Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem