Wednesday, December 17, 2008

God Made Himself a Baby to Conquer Our Pride and Free Us to Love Him

In today's General Audience, Pope Benedict returns to his previous theme of Jesus as the God-Baby, which we also reflected upon earlier.

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, December 17, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today begin those days of Advent which immediately prepare us for the Nativity of the Lord: we are within the Christmas Novena which in many Christian communities is celebrated with liturgies rich with Biblical texts, all oriented to nourish expectation for the birth of the Savior. In effect, the entire Church concentrates its look of faith on this imminent feast, predisposing us, as it does every year, to join the joyous song of the angels who in the middle of the night announced to shepherds the extraordinary event of the birth of the Redeemer, asking them to go to the cave in Bethlehem. There lay Emmanuel, the Creator who made Himself a creature, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a poor manger (cfr Lk 2,13-14).

Christmas is a universal feast because of the atmosphere that distinguishes it. Even those who are not Christian can, in fact, perceive in this annual Christian event something extraordinary and transcendent, something intimate that speaks to the heart. It is the feast that sings about the gift of life.

The birth of a baby should always be an event that brings joy. The embrace of a newborn baby normally arouses feelings of attention and concern, of emotion and tenderness. Christmas is an encounter with a newborn baby wailing inside a miserable cave. Contemplating Him in his manger-crib, how can we not think of all the babies who are born today into great poverty in many parts of the world? How can we not think of the many babies who are not welcome and who are rejected, of those who fail to survive for lack of care and attention? How can we not think of couples who would love the joy of having a child but fail to achieve this expectation?

Unfortunately, under the spur of hedonistic consumerism, Christmas risks losing its spiritual significance to be reduced to a mere commercial occasion for acquiring and receiving gifts. In fact, the difficulties, the uncertainties, and the very economic crisis which so many families are experiencing so directly these days, and which affects all of mankind, can be a stimulus to rediscover the warmth of simplicity, of friendship and of brotherhood, the values which are typical of Christmas.

Stripped of its consumeristic and materialistic incrustations, Christmas can become an occasion for welcoming, as a gift to oneself, the message of hope that comes from the mystery of Christ's birth. But all this does not suffice to fully grasp the value of the feast that we are awaiting. We know that it celebrates the central event of history: the Incarnation of the Divine Word for the redemption of mankind.

St. Leo the Great, in one of his many Christmas homilies, exclaimed: "Let us exult in the Lord, dear ones, and let us open our hearts to joy most pure. Because the day has come which means for us new redemption, ancient preparation, eternal happiness. In fact, in the recurrent annual cycles, the great mystery of our salvation is renewed for us - that promise made at the beginning for the end of times and destined to last without end" (Homily XXII).

St. Paul returns to this fundamental truth several times in his letters. To the Galatians, for example, he writes: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law... so that we might receive adoption" (4,4). In the Letter to the Romans, he points out the logical and demanding consequences of this salvific event: "If (we are) children (of God), then we are also heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (8,17).

But it is above all St. John, in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, who meditated most profoundly on the mystery of the Incarnation. That is why the Prologue has been part of the Liturgy of the Nativity from the earliest times. In it is found the most authentic expression and the most profound synthesis of this feast, and the foundation of its joy. St. John writes: "Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis" (Jn 1,14) - And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us.

At Christmas then, we are not just commemorating the birthday of a great personage. We are not simply celebrating in the abstract the mystery of man's birth or the mystery of life in general. Much less do we just celebrate the start of a new season.

At Christmas, we remember something very concrete and important to mankind, something essential to the Christian faith, a truth that St. John summarized in these few words, "The Word was made flesh."

It is a historic event that the evangelist Luke took care to situate in a well-determined context: in the days when the decree for the first census under Augustus Caesar was promulgated, when Quirinus was already governor of Syria (cfr Lk 2,1-7). Therefore, the event that Israel had awaited for centuries took place on a historically datable night. In the dark of night in Bethlehem, a great light was truly lit: the creator of the universe was incarnated, assuming human nature indissolubly - truly "God of God, Light of Light" and at the same time, man, true man.

What John calls in Greek “ho logos” - translated “Verbum” in Latin - also means “sense.” We can therefore understand John's expression this way: the “eternal Sense” of the world became tangible to our senses and to our intelligence; now we could touch it and contemplate it (cfr 1 Jn,1,1). The “Sense” that became flesh is not simply a general idea inherent in the world. It is a “Word” addressed to us. The Logos knows us, calls us, leads us.

It is not a universal law, within which we would then carry out some role. It is a Person who is interested in every single person. He is the Son of the living God, who made Himself human in Bethlehem.

To many, and in some way to all of us, this may seem too beautiful to be true. In fact, one must reiterate here: Yes, there is a sense (to life), and this sense is not an impotent protest against the absurd. This Sense has power: it is God.

A good God, who must not be confused with some exalted and remote being, who would never have come down to us, but a God who made Himself one of us and is very close to us, who has time for each of us, and who came to stay with us.

We then ask ourselves: "Could something of the kind ever be possible? Is it worthy of God to become a baby?" In order to open the heart to this truth which illuminates the entire human existence, we must bend our minds and recognize the limitations of our intelligence.

In the cave of Bethlehem, God showed Himself to us as a humble “infant” in order to conquer our pride. Perhaps we may yield more easily before power, before wisdom. But He does not want our surrender - He appeals instead to our heart and our free choice to accept His love. He made Himself small to liberate us from that human claim to grandeur that comes from pride. He freely incarnated as man to make us truly free - free to love Him.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is a favored opportunity to meditate on the sense and value of our existence. May the approach of this feast help us to reflect, on the one hand, on the drama of history in which men, wounded by sin, are perennially in search of happiness and a fulfilling sense of life and death; on the other, it exhorts us to meditate on the merciful goodness of God, who came down to mankind in order to directly communicate the Truth that saves, and to make us take part in His friendship and in His life.

Therefore, let us prepare ourselves for Christmas with humility and simplicity, disposing ourselves to receive as gifts the light, joy and peace which radiate from this mystery. Let us welcome the Nativity of Christ as an event capable of renewing our existence today. May the encounter with the Baby Jesus make us persons who do not think only of ourselves, but are open to the expectations and needs of our brothers. In this way we too become witnesses of the light that Christmas sheds on mankind in the third millennium.

Let us pray to the Most Blessed Mary, tabernacle of the Word incarnate, and to St. Joseph, silent witness to the events of salvation, to communicate to us the sentiments they felt as they awaited the birth of Jesus, so that we may prepare ourselves and celebrate in a holy way the coming Christmas, in the joy of faith and inspired by a commitment to sincere conversion.

A merry Christmas to everyone!


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