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Homily of Pope John Paul II - Christmas midnight mass 1997
1. "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy... ; for to you is
born this day... a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11).
Today! This "today" which resounds in the liturgy does not refer
only to the event which took place two thousand years ago and which changed the
history of the world. It also refers to this Holy Night in which we are
gathered here, in Saint Peter's Basilica, in spiritual communion with all those
throughout the world who are celebrating the Solemnity of Christmas. Even in
the farthest reaches of the five Continents there resound tonight the angelic
words heard by the shepherds of Bethlehem: "Behold, I bring you good news
of a great joy... ; for to you is born this day... a Saviour, who is Christ the
Lord" (Lk 2:10-11).
Jesus was born in a stable, as the Gospel of Luke recounts, "because
there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7). Mary, his Mother, and
Joseph had not found a welcome in any house in Bethlehem. Mary had to lay the
Saviour of the world in a manger, the only cradle available for the Son of God
made man. This is the reality of the Lord's Nativity. Every year we return to
it: thus we rediscover it, thus we experience it every time with unchanged
2. The birth of the Messiah! It is the central event in the history of
humanity. The whole human race was awaiting it with a vague presentiment; the
Chosen People awaited with explicit awareness.
A privileged witness of this expectation, throughout the entire liturgical
season of Advent and also at this solemn vigil, is the Prophet Isaiah who, from
the distant centuries directs his inspired gaze to this single, future night at
Bethlehem. Although he lived many centuries earlier, he speaks of this event
and its mystery as if he were an eyewitness of it: "For to us a child is
born, to us a son is given" - "Puer natus est nobis, Filius datus
est nobis" (Is 9:6).
Such is the historical event imbued with mystery: a tender child is born,
fully human but at the same time the only-begotten Son of the Father. He is the
Son, not made but eternally begotten, the Son of one being with the Father. "God
from God, light from light, true God from true God". He is the Word, "through
whom all things were made".
We shall soon proclaim these truths in the Creed and add: "For us men
and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man". Professing
our faith together with the whole Church, this night too we shall acknowledge
the amazing grace which the Lord's mercy bestows on us.
Israel, the People of God of the Old Covenant, was chosen to bring to the
world, as a "shoot from the stump of David", the Messiah, the Saviour
and Redeemer of all humanity. Together with an outstanding representative of
that People, the Prophet Isaiah, let us therefore turn to Bethlehem with our
eyes lifted in expectation of the Messiah. In the divine light we can glimpse
how the Old Covenant is being fulfilled and how, with Christ's birth, a New and
Eternal Covenant is being revealed.
3. Saint Paul speaks of this New Covenant in the Letter to Titus which we
have just heard: "The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all
men" (Tit 2:11). Precisely this grace enables humanity to live "awaiting
our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus
Christ", who "gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and
to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds"
Dear Brothers and Sisters, this message of grace is today addressed to us!
Listen, then! To all "whom God loves", to all who accept the
invitation to pray and keep vigil on this Holy Christmas Night, I repeat with
joy: God's love for us has been revealed! His love is grace and faithfulness,
mercy and truth! By setting us free from the darkness of sin and death, he has
become the firm and unshakeable foundation of the hope of every human being.
The liturgical song repeats this with joyful insistence: Come, let us adore
him! Come from every part of the world to contemplate what has taken place in
the grotto ion.
4. How unsearchably deep is the mystery of the Incarnation! Abundantly
rich, in turn, is the Christmas Liturgy: in the Masses of Midnight, Dawn and
Christmas Day, various liturgical texts cast successive rays of light on this
great event which the Lord wants to make known to all who await him and seek him
(cf. Lk 2:15).
In the mystery of Christmas is fully reflected the truth of his plan of
salvation for man and for the world. It is not only man who is to be saved, but
all creation is invited to sing to the Lord a new song, to rejoice and to exult
together with all the nations of the earth (cf. Ps 96).
It was this very song of praise which resounded with solemn magnificence
over the poor stable at Bethlehem. We read in Saint Luke that the heavenly host
praised God saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among
men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2:14).
In God is the fullness of glory. On this night the glory of God becomes the
inheritance of all creation and, in particular, of mankind. Yes, the Eternal
Son, the eternal object of the Father's pleasure, became man, and his earthly
birth on Christmas night testifies once and for all that in him every man is
included in the mystery of God's love, which is the source of definitive peace.
"Peace among men with whom he is pleased". Yes, peace to
humanity! This is my Christmas wish. Dear Brothers and Sisters, during this
night and throughout the Christmas Octave, let us implore from the Lord this
much needed grace. Let us pray that all humanity will come to know in the Son
of Mary, born in Bethlehem, the Redeemer of the world who brings us the gift of
love and peace.