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Wednesday's Audience - Pre-Christmas Reflection

"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.

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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 ...

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