Here is the Christmas message from the Custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is. 9,1).
We are living at a difficult time when the recurring events of tragedies and violence fill us with fear. The description of the end of times, which the Liturgy has proposed before the beginning of Advent (Mk 13,24-32) seemed to be an echo of what is now happening, and which is rendering it difficult to await Christmas with sentiments of joy, in a festive atmosphere and in a celebration of life. Fear seems to be dictating our way of life, even in our small daily actions. Above all, we have fear of the other, as if we have lost the courage to believe in the other.
We do not trust one another any longer and we are tempted to close ourselves in our small circle of interests. We are afraid of the Muslim, of the Jew, of people coming from the east or from the west, according to where we are presently living. Our enemy has become “the others”; we think that “the others” are against us, that they threaten us and that they rob us of our hope in a secure world, in a better future.
In Syria, in Iraq, in the Holy Land, in the East as well as in the West, it seems that the force of violence has become the only possible voice that can fight against the violence which overshadows us.
To wait for Christmas in these circumstances is a way to interrogate our faith and to make us need the birth of a greater hope. These are the sentiments that have accompanied us when participating in the various ceremonies linked with the lighting of the Christmas tree and the blessing of the Crib. Often, during the celebration of the feast, we could hear around us the sirens sounding the alarm, a sign of conflicts and disorder. We have always recognised in ourselves a sense of inadequacy with respect to the situation. It seemed that we were living outside time and history.
This is not the case, however. The Gospel tells us that the fullness of time has been realised during a difficult moment, when John was in the desert inviting people to prepare the Way of the Lord and preaching a baptism of conversion. The feast, the lights, the colours, although necessary, desired and celebrated in the circumstances in which we are living, should lead us to think more profoundly on the original sense of Christmas: God enters into our time and into our history. He enters into the time and the history in which we live today.
Christmas tells us that God loves life, that He himself is life. This truth is the definitive and true reason to continue living on this earth. This is a time to search for authentic motivations, for the ultimate reasons to continue living and hoping. These are the reasons and motivations that endure, that give the sense of just measure, of a real horizon, and do not succumb to oscillating phases of our anguish and exultations. This is the time to look for questions and answers, for orientations. It is the time to rediscover the Orient.
This East is Christ, Man and God. Christmas recalls us, therefore, to this Orient.
Christmas tells us that our life is an Advent; that we are living oriented towards a future, which maybe dramatic, tiresome, but in which – we are certain – we can meet Him. Christmas tells us that this future, for which we are so preoccupied, this future, which begins now, has already began: it is Jesus, who is born, dies and rises from death.
We are not walking towards emptiness, towards the unknown, towards darkness, but towards something which has already happened and which will remain, which is always in the process of being realised and which, anyhow, we will never be able to destroy even if want to do so.
We are journeying towards an encounter.In this way, the difficult time will, at the end, become a good time, as it will restore to us the awareness that this is a time of encounter, revealing our need for something which is different from ourselves, rendering us more attentive to the persons who live side by side with us, because the future towards which we are journeying can only be the realisation of each and every relationship which we have nurtured, here and now. Even in these dramatic circumstances.
My wishes this year are that we can walk with trust along this road, which opens in the desert of our many lives and leads to a good future, a future with a unique Face: the Face of the mercy of the Father, who waits for us always and with faithfulness, even today.