Vatican City, Dec 24, 2022 / 13:00 pm
What does this night still have to say to our lives? Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, after so many Christmases spent amid decorations and gifts, after so much consumerism that has packaged the mystery we celebrate, there is a danger. We know many things about Christmas, but we forget its real meaning. So how do we rediscover the meaning of Christmas? First of all, where do we go to find it? The Gospel of Jesus’ birth appears to have been written precisely for this purpose: to take us by the hand and lead us where God would have us go.
It starts with a situation not unlike our own: everyone is bustling about, getting ready for an important event, the great census, which called for much preparation. In that sense, the atmosphere was very much like our modern celebration of Christmas. Yet the Gospel has little to do with that worldly scenario; it quickly shifts our gaze to something else, which it considers more important. It is a small and apparently insignificant detail that it nonetheless mentions three times, always in relation to the central figures in the narrative. First, Mary places Jesus “in a manger” (Lk 2:7); then the angels tell the shepherds about “a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12); and finally, the shepherds, who find “the child lying in the manger” (v. 16). In order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, we need to look to the manger. Yet why is the manger so important? Because it is the sign, and not by chance, of Christ’s coming into this world. It is how he announces his coming. It is the way God is born in history, so that history itself can be reborn. What then does the Lord tell us? Through the manger, three things, at least: closeness, poverty and concreteness.
Closeness. The manger serves as a feeding trough, to enable food to be consumed more quickly. In this way, it can symbolize one aspect of our humanity: our greed for consumption. While animals feed in their stalls, men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, consume even their neighbors, their brothers and sisters. How many wars have we seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom treated with contempt! As always, the principal victims of this human greed are the weak and the vulnerable. This Christmas too, as in the case of Jesus, a world ravenous for money, ravenous for power and ravenous for pleasure does not make room for the little ones, for so many unborn, poor and forgotten children. I think above all of the children devoured by war, poverty and injustice. Yet those are the very places to which Jesus comes, a child in the manger of rejection and refusal. In him, the Child of Bethlehem, every child is present. And we ourselves are invited to view life, politics and history through the eyes of children.
In the manger of rejection and discomfort, God makes himself present. He comes there because there we see the problem of our humanity: the indifference produced by the greedy rush to possess and consume. There, in that manger, Christ is born, and there we discover his closeness to us. He comes there, to a feeding trough, in order to become our food. God is no father who devours his children, but the Father who, in Jesus, makes us his children and feeds us with his tender love. He comes to touch our hearts and to tell us that love alone is the power that changes the course of history. He does not remain distant and mighty, but draws near to us in humility; leaving his throne in heaven, he lets himself be laid in a manger.