Pope's Homily at Midnight Mass
"In That Child Lying in the Stable, God Has Shown His Glory"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 27, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, held in St. Peter's Basilica.
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"The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you." With these words of the second Psalm, the Church begins the Vigil Mass of Christmas, at which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Redeemer in a stable in Bethlehem. This psalm was once a part of the coronation rite of the kings of Judah. The people of Israel, in virtue of its election, considered itself in a special way a son of God, adopted by God. Just as the king was the personification of the people, his enthronement was experienced as a solemn act of adoption by God, whereby the king was in some way taken up into the very mystery of God. [On] Bethlehem Night, these words, which were really more an expression of hope than a present reality, took on new and unexpected meaning. The Child lying in the manger is truly God's Son. God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But there is more: In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself became man. To him the Father says: "You are my son." God's everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God's eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are my son, this day I have begotten you."
God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: This is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendor of that "today," of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield -- it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.
Let us listen to a second phrase from the liturgy of this holy night, one taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Upon the people who walked in darkness a great light has shone" (Isaiah 9:1). The word "light" pervades the entire liturgy of tonight's Mass. It is found again in the passage drawn from St. Paul's letter to Titus: "The grace of God has appeared" (2:11). The expression "has appeared," in the original Greek says the same thing that was expressed in Hebrew by the words "a light has shone": this "apparition" -- this "epiphany" -- is the breaking of God's light upon a world full of darkness and unsolved problems. The Gospel then relates that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and "shone around them" (Luke 2:9). Wherever God's glory appears, light spreads throughout the world. St. John tells us that "God is light and in him is no darkness" (1 John 1:5). The light is a source of life.
But first, light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory -- the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them."
Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up -- charity toward others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the saints -- from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with his own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.
Along with the Christmas tree, our Austrian friends have also brought us a small flame lit in Bethlehem, as if to say that the true mystery of Christmas is the inner brightness radiating from this Child. May that inner brightness spread to us, and kindle in our hearts the flame of God's goodness; may all of us, by our love, bring light to the world! Let us keep this light-giving flame from being extinguished by the ...
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