“In its simplicity, the Crib transmits hope; each of the personages is immersed in this atmosphere of hope”
Here is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ catechesis at this morning’s general audience, held in Paul VI Hall.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We have just begun a series of catecheses on the theme of hope, all the more appropriate in the Season of Advent. Up to now, the prophet Isaiah has been guiding us. Today, a few days from Christmas, I would like to reflect more specifically on the moment in which, so to speak, hope entered the world, with the Incarnation of the Son of God. Isaiah himself pre-announced the Messiah’s birth in some passages: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”: (7:14); and also “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1). The meaning of Christmas shines through these passages: God fulfils the promise making Himself man; He does not abandon His people, He comes close to the point of despoiling Himself of his divinity. Thus God shows His fidelity and inaugurates a new Kingdom, which gives a new hope to humanity. And what is this hope? Eternal life.
When there is talk of hope, it refers often to that which is not in man’s power and which is not visible. In fact, what we hope for goes beyond our strength and our gaze. However, Christ’s birth, inaugurating the Redemption, speaks to us of a different hope, a reliable, visible and comprehensible hope, because it is founded on God. He entered the world and gave us the strength to walk with him: God walks with us in Jesus and to walk with Him towards the fullness of life gives us the strength to be in the present in a new way, though laborious. For the Christian to hope, therefore, means the certainty of being on the way with Christ towards the Father, who awaits us. Hope never stops, hope is always on the way and makes us walk forward. This hope, which the Child of Bethlehem gives us, offers a goal, a good destiny to the present, the salvation of humanity, beatitude to the one who entrusts himself to the merciful God. Saint Paul summarizes all this with the expression: “For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24). That is, walking in this way, with hope, we are saved. And here, we can each ask ourselves the question: do I walk with hope or is my interior life stopped, closed? Is my heart a closed drawer or a drawer open to hope, which has me walk with Christ, and not alone?
During the Season of Advent, the Crib is prepared in Christians’ homes, according to the tradition that goes back to Saint Francis of Assisi. In its simplicity, the Crib transmits hope; each of the personages is immersed in this atmosphere of hope.
We note first of all the place where Jesus is born: Bethlehem. A small borough of Judea where a thousand years earlier David was born, the shepherd chosen by God as King of Israel. Bethlehem is not a capital, therefore it is preferred by Divine Providence, which loves to act through the little ones and humble ones. In that place, the much awaited “son of David” was born, Jesus, in whom God’s hope and man’s hope meet.
Then we look at Mary, Mother of Hope. With her “Yes” she opened the door of our world to God: her girl’s heart was full of hope, all animated by faith; and so God chose her and she believed in His word. She, who for nine months was the Ark of the new and eternal Covenant, contemplated the Child in the cavern and saw in Him the love of God, who comes to save His people and the whole of humanity.
At Mary’s side is Joseph, descendant of Jesse and David; he too believed in the Angel’s words and, looking at Jesus in the manger, he meditated that that Child came from the Holy Spirit, and that God Himself ordered him to call him thus, “Jesus.” In that name is every man’s hope, because through that son of woman, God will save humanity from death and sin. Therefore, it is important to look at the Crib!
Also at the Crib are the shepherds, who represent the humble and the poor who were awaiting the Messiah, the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). In that Child they saw the fulfilment of the promises and they hope that God’s salvation will finally reach each one of them. One who trusts in his own securities, especially material, does not await God’s salvation. Let’s get this in our head: our securities will not save us; the only security that saves us is that of hope in God. He saves us because He is strong and makes us walk in life with joy, with the desire to do good, with the desire to become happy for eternity. Instead, the little ones, the shepherds, trust in God, hope in Him and rejoice when they recognize in that Child the sign indicated by the Angels (cf. Luke 2:12).
And in fact the choir of Angels proclaims from on high the great design that the Child carries out: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Christian hope is expressed in praise and thanksgiving to God, who has inaugurated His Kingdom of love, justice and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, in these days, contemplating the Crib, we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Birth. It will be truly a celebration if we receive Jesus, seed of hope that God deposits in the furrows of our personal and communal history. Every “Yes” to Jesus who comes is a seed of hope. Let us have confidence in this seed of hope, in this yes: “Yes, Jesus, you can save me, you can save me.” A Happy Christmas of hope to all!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]