On the Message of Christmas
"God Has Manifested His Good Will Toward Everyone"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 2, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience last Wednesday, held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope delivered a reflection on the meaning of Christmas.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today's meeting takes place in the atmosphere of Christmas, permeated by the profound joy of the Savior's birth. We just celebrated, day before yesterday, this mystery, whose echo is prolonged in the liturgy of all these days. It is a mystery of light that the people of every age can relive in faith.
Resounding in our spirit are the words of John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate in fact today: "'Et Verbum caro factum est' -- the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). At Christmas, therefore, God has come to dwell among us, he has come for us, to stay with us. A question runs throughout these two thousand years of Christian history: But why did he do so? Why did God become man?"
The song that the angels intoned in the grotto of Bethlehem helps us to answer this question: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14). The canticle of Christmas night, which enters in the Gloria, is now a part of the liturgy as are the other three canticles of the New Testament, which refer to Jesus' birth and infancy: the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis.
While the last three are placed respectively in lauds, in the morning, in the evening prayer of vespers and the night prayer of compline, the Gloria is placed precisely in the holy Mass. Added since the second century to the words of the angels were some acclamations: "We praise you for your great glory, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks," and later, other invocations: "Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takes away the sins of the world ..." until formulating a graceful hymn of praise which was sung for the first time in the Christmas Mass and later on all feast days.
Placed at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, the Gloria underlines the existing continuity between the birth and death of Christ, between Christmas and Easter, inseparable aspects of the one and only mystery of salvation.
The Gospel recounts that the angelic multitude sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." The angels announce to the shepherds that Jesus' birth "is" glory for God in the highest heaven; and "is" peace on earth for the men with whom he is pleased.
Appropriately, therefore, these words are usually placed in the grotto as an explanation of the mystery of Christmas, which has taken place in the manger. The term "gloria" (doxa) indicates the splendor of God which arouses the grateful praise of creatures. St. Paul would say: It is "knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). "Peace" (eirene) synthesizes the fullness of the messianic gifts, the salvation that, as the Apostle also observes, is identified with Christ himself. "He is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14).
And finally is the reference to "men with whom he is pleased." "Good will" (eudokia), in common language, makes one think of the "good will" of men, but here rather is indicated God's "good will" toward men, which knows no limits. Here, therefore, is the message of Christmas: With Jesus' birth, God has manifested his good will toward everyone.
Let us return to the question: "Why did God become man?" St. Irenaeus writes: "The word has become the dispenser of the Father's glory for the usefulness of men.... The glory of God is the living man -- 'vivens homo' -- and the life of man consists in the vision of God" ("Adv. Haer," IV, 20.5.7).
God's glory is manifested, therefore, in the salvation of man, whom God has so loved "who gave him," as John's Gospel affirms, "his only Son so that he who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). So love is the ultimate reason for Christ's incarnation.
Eloquent in this respect is the reflection of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote: God "is not, in the first place, absolute power, but absolute love whose sovereignty is not manifested in keeping for himself what belongs to him, but in its abandonment" ("Mysterium Paschale," 1,14).
The God we contemplate in the manger is the God-Love. On this point, the proclamation of the angels resounds for us also as an invitation: "May there be glory to God in the highest heaven, may there be on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased."
The only way to glorify God and to build peace in the world consists in the humble and confident acceptance of the gift of Christmas: love. The song of the angels can then become a prayer to utter frequently, and not only in this Christmas season. A hymn of praise to God in the highest heaven and a fervent invocation of peace on earth, which is translated in a concrete commitment to build it with our lives. This is the commitment that Christmas entrusts to us.
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our audience today is filled with the joy of Christmas, the mystery of God's eternal word made flesh for our salvation. Down the centuries Christians have contemplated this mystery of light, seeking to understand more fully why God chose to become man.
An answer to this question can be found in the joyful song of the angels on the first Christmas: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace among those whom he favors!" (Luke 2:14).
God's glory, shining on the face of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6), brings that peace which is the crowning of his messianic gifts. St. Irenaeus tells us that the word became flesh in order to give us a share in God's glory: "The glory of God is the living man, and the life of man consists in the vision of God" ("Adv. Haer.," 20.5.7).
Ultimately, the Incarnation is the fruit of God's infinite love for humanity; it reveals, in von Balthasar's insightful phrase, that God is not primarily absolute power, but absolute love, a love revealed in the complete gift of himself. May the song of the angels inspire us to give "glory to God" and to build "peace on earth," by humbly receiving the gift that God gives us at Christmas: the gifts of his love, the gift of his Son.
I offer a very cordial welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the groups from Ireland and the United States of America. May your visit to Rome in these holy days be a source of spiritual joy and deepened faith in the word made flesh. Upon you and your families I invoke the grace and peace of the newborn Savior. Happy Christmas!
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