The annual celebration of Christmas not only recalls Christ’s birth, it celebrates his continue presence in the world and in history, Pope Benedict XVI said. The Pope hosted his first general audience of the new year, Jan. 5, sheltered from the cold of Rome in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.
In his message to a crowd of thousands, many of whom are still on vacation from work and school, he focused on the meaning of the Christmas liturgies.
Christmas continues to fascinate people, he said, "because everyone in one way or another is intuitively aware that the birth of Jesus concerns man's most profound aspirations and hopes."
The world is again renewed in the light of Christ in a "mysterious, yet real way" during Christmas. And, "each (liturgical) celebration is the real presence of the mystery of Christ and a prolongation of the history of salvation," he said.
By celebrating Christ's birth, the mysteries of the salvation he brings are brought to the present. They become "real ... effective for us today" through the sacraments, he explained.
The Pope pointed out the connection between Christ's birth and his later passion, death and resurrection. Christmas represents the beginning of the mystery that reaches its culmination at Easter, he explained.
"In Jesus, the Word Incarnate, our salvation is accomplished in the flesh. Jesus’ humbling of himself, beginning with his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, will find its fullest expression in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection."
In order to understand that Christmas is "not just a memory, but a presence ... it is important to live the Christmas period intensely, as the Church presents it," said Pope Benedict.
"The celebration of Christmas does not only present us with examples to imitate, such as the humility and poverty of the Lord, His benevolence and love for mankind; rather it is an invitation to let oneself be transformed totally by the One Who entered our flesh.
“The aim of God becoming manifest was that we might participate in divine life, and that the mystery of His incarnation might be realized in us. This mystery is the fulfillment of man's vocation,” he concluded.