‘Christmas is a day to open the heart: it is necessary to open one’s heart to so much littleness, which is there in that Baby, and to so much wonder. It is the wonder of Christmas’
Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall:
THE HOLY FATHER’S CATECHESIS
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning! We are approaching Christmas, and the prophet Isaiah helps us once again to open ourselves to hope, receiving the Good News of the coming of salvation. Chapter 52 of Isaiah begins with the invitation addressed to Jerusalem to awake, to shake herself from the dust and loose the bonds, and to put on her beautiful garments, because the Lord has come to liberate His people (vv. 1-3). And he adds: “My people shall know my name, that it is I who speak; here am I” (v. 6).
To this “Here am I” said by God, which summarizing His whole will of salvation and of closeness to us, the song of joy of Jerusalem responds, in keeping with the prophet’s invitation. It is a very important historical moment. It is the end of the exile of Babylon; it is the possibility for Israel to find God again and, in faith, to find itself again. The Lord makes Himself close, and the “little remnant,” namely the few people that remained after the exile and that in exile endured in faith, that went through the crisis and continued to believe and to hope even in the midst of darkness, that “little remnant” will be able to see the wonders of God.
At this point the prophet inserts a song of exultance:
How beautiful upon the mountains*
are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”a
…Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
All the ends of the earth can see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7.9-10).
These words of Isaiah, on which we wish to pause a little, make reference to the miracle of peace, and they do so in a very particular way, fixing the eyes not on the messenger but on his feet, which run swiftly: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger …”
It is like the Bride of the Canticle of Canticles, who runs to her Beloved: “Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills” (Canticle 2:8). Thus runs also the messenger of peace, bringing the happy announcement of liberation, of salvation, and proclaiming that God reigns.
God has not abandoned His people and did not let Himself be defeated by evil, because He is faithful, and his grace is greater than sin. We must learn this, because we are obstinate and do not learn it. But I will ask a question: what is greater, God or sin? God! And who wins at the end, God or sin? God. He is able to overcome the greatest sin, the most shameful, the most terrible, the worst of sins. With what weapon does God overcome sin? With love! This means that “God reigns”; these are the words of faith in a Lord whose power bends over humanity, abases Himself, to offer mercy and liberate man from what disfigures in him the beautiful image of God, because when we are in sin, God’s image is disfigured. And the fulfilment of so much love will be in fact the Kingdom established by Jesus, that Kingdom of forgiveness and peace that we celebrate at Christmas and that is realized definitively at Easter. And the most beautiful joy of Christmas is this interior joy of peace: the Lord has cancelled my sins, the Lord has forgiven me, the Lord has had mercy on me, He came to save me. This is the joy of Christmas!
These are, brothers and sisters, the reasons for our hope. When everything seems finished, when, in face of so many negative realities, faith becomes difficult and the temptation comes to say that nothing has meaning anymore, see instead the Good News brought by those swift feet: God is coming to realize something new, to establish a kingdom of peace. God has “bared His arm” and is coming to bring freedom and consolation. Evil will not triumph forever, there is an end to pain. Despair is defeated because God is among us.
And we are also asked to awake somewhat, like Jerusalem, in keeping with the invitation addressed to her by the prophet. We are called to become men and women of hope, collaborating with the coming of this Kingdom made of light and destined to all, men and women of hope. How awful it is when we meet a Christian that has lost hope! “But I don’t hope for anything, everything has ended for me”: so says a Christian who is unable to look at horizons of hope and, before his eyes there is only a wall. But God destroys these walls with forgiveness! And we must pray for this, that God may give us hope every day, and that He may give it to everyone; that hope that is born when we see God in the crib in Bethlehem. The message of the Good News that has been entrusted to us is urgent. We must also run like the messenger on the mountains, because the world cannot wait; humanity has hunger and thirst for justice, for truth <and> for peace.
And seeing the little Babe of Bethlehem, the little ones of the world will know that the promise has been fulfilled, the message has been realized. Enclosed in a newly born child, needy of everything, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, is the whole power of the God that saves. Christmas is a day to open the heart: it is necessary to open one’s heart to so much littleness, which is there in that Baby, and to so much wonder. It is the wonder of Christmas, for which we are preparing, with hope, in this Season of Advent. It is the surprise of a Child God, of a poor God, of a weak God, of a God who abandons His greatness to make himself close to each one of us.
[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT]