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"Many Think That God Is a Stranger"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at Wednesday's general audience, held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope delivered a reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"The Lord is at hand: come let us adore him!" With this invocation, the liturgy invites us in these last days of Advent, to draw close as though on tiptoes to the cave of Bethlehem, where the extraordinary event took place that changed the course of history: the birth of the Redeemer.

On Christmas Eve, we will place ourselves once again before the Crib to contemplate, astonished, the "Word made flesh." Sentiments of joy and gratitude, like in every year, are renewed in our hearts as we hear the melodies of Christmas carols, which sing of, in so many languages, the same, extraordinary miracle. The Creator of the universe, out of love, came to make his dwelling among men. In the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul affirms that Christ, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (2:6). He appeared in human form, adds the Apostle, humbling himself. At holy Christmas we will relive the realization of this sublime mystery of grace and mercy.

St. Paul adds: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). The Chosen People had waited for centuries for the Messiah, but they imagined him as a powerful and victorious leader, who would free his own from the oppression of foreigners.

The Savior, however, was born in silence and total poverty. He came as a light that enlightens all men -- says John the Evangelist -- "and his own people received him not" (John 1:9,11). However, the Apostle adds: "But to all who received him ... he gave power to become children of God" (ibid., 1:12). The promised light enlightened the hearts of those who persevered in vigilant and active expectation.

The liturgy of Advent exhorts us also to be sober and vigilant, so as not to be overcome by the weight of sin and excessive worldly concerns. In fact, being vigilant and praying we will be able to recognize and receive the splendor of Christ's Christmas. In one of his homilies St. Maximus of Turin, a bishop who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries, affirmed: "Time alerts us that Christ's Christmas is near. The world, with its own anxieties, speaks of the imminence of something that will renew it and hopes with patient waiting that the brilliance of a more brilliant sun will lighten its darkness.... This expectation of creation also leads us to await the rising of Christ, new Sun" (Sermon 61a, 1-3). Creation itself, therefore, leads us to discover and recognize the One who must come.

But the question is: Does humanity of our time still await a Savior? The impression is that many think that God is foreign to their own interests. It would seem they have no need of him; they live as if he did not exist and, worse still, as if he were an "obstacle" that must be removed so they can be fulfilled. Even among believers, we are certain, some allow themselves to be drawn by seductive chimeras and distracted by deceitful doctrines which propose illusory shortcuts to attain happiness.

However, despite its contradictions, anxieties and dramas, and perhaps because of them, today's humanity seeks a way of renewal, of salvation, a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Lord who renews the world and our lives; the coming of Christ, the only true Redeemer of man and of all men. It is true, false prophets continue to propose a "cheap" salvation, which always ends by causing harsh deceptions. In fact, the history of the last 50 years shows the search for a "cheap" Savior and manifests all the disillusions that have derived from it.

We Christians have the task to spread, with the testimony of life, the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to all men and women of good will. On being born in the poverty of the stable, Jesus comes to offer to all the only joy and peace that can satisfy the expectations of the human spirit.

But, how can we prepare ourselves to open our hearts to the Lord who comes? The spiritual attitude of vigilant and prayerful waiting continues to be the Christian's fundamental characteristic during this time of Advent. It is the attitude that characterizes the protagonists of the time: Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Wise Men, the simple and humble people, but, above all, Mary's and Joseph's waiting! The latter, more than any other, experienced in the first person the emotion and trepidation for the Child about to be born. It is not difficult to imagine how they spent the last days, waiting to take the newborn in their arms.

May their attitude be ours, dear brothers and sisters. In this connection, let us hear the exhortation of St. Maximus, bishop of Turin, mentioned earlier: "While we prepare to welcome the Lord's Christmas, let us put on clean, stainless garments. I am speaking of the soul's garment, not the body's. We do not have to be clothed in silk garments, but in good works! Luxurious garments can cover parts of the body, but do not adorn the conscience!" (ibid.).

May the Child Jesus, being born among us, not find us distracted or dedicated simply to decorating our homes with lights. Rather, in our spirit and in our families let us decorate a worthy dwelling in which he feels welcomed with faith and love. May the Virgin and St. Joseph help us live the mystery of Christmas with new wonder and pacifying serenity.

With these sentiments, I wish to express to all of you here present and to your families my most heartfelt wishes for a holy and happy Christmas, remembering in particular those who are in difficulty or suffering in body and in spirit. Happy Christmas to you all!

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The Lord is at hand: come let us adore him!" In these last days of Advent, the liturgy invites us to draw close to the stable of Bethlehem contemplating in awe the birth of the Redeemer. Full of joy and thanksgiving we recall how the Creator of the universe, out of love, came to dwell among us. For many centuries Israel had awaited the Messiah, imagining him as a powerful and victorious leader. Instead, the Savior was born in absolute poverty, and the true light, who enlightens all people, was not accepted by his own (cf. John 1:9-12).

Do we still await the Savior? Today many consider God irrelevant, an obstacle to success. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory short cuts to happiness. And yet, perhaps even because of this confusion, humanity seeks a Savior and awaits the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer. We, Christians, through our witness against those who offer a "cheap salvation," defend the truth of Christmas which Christ brings to every person of goodwill.

Let us then with Mary and Joseph prepare to open our hearts to the Lord who is at hand. Do not be distracted by the trappings! Be watchful and pray! In this way our homes will welcome Jesus with faith and love.

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today. May these final days of Advent be full of spiritual wonder. To you and your loved ones, especially those who may be in difficulty or suffering, I extend my best wishes for a happy and holy Christmas!

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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