Vatican City, Dec 24, 2014 / 14:59 pm
The birth of Jesus – a light that shattered the world's darkness on Christmas night – witnesses to God's love for mankind amid a history marked by "violence, wars, hatred and oppression," Pope Francis said.
"Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption," he emphasized. "This is the message of Christmas night."
This theme of Christ's light defeating the darkness of sin on Christmas, rooted in God's patience, closeness, and tenderness towards his creatures, was at the center of Pope Francis' homily during evening Mass on Dec. 24 at the Vatican.
Before the liturgy began in Saint Peter's Basilica, there was the chanting of "Kalenda" – a traditional chant recounting the events leading up to Christ's birth. After this, the Holy Father unveiled and prayed before a small statue of the Child Jesus which laid in front of the main altar above St. Peter's tomb. The statue, which itself rested upon a stand holding the Scriptures as a symbol of the Word Made Flesh, was then venerated with flowers by a group of children, one from Syria, representing all corners of the world.
Reflecting on the readings for Christmas night following the chanting of the Gospel, Pope Francis in his homily recalled Isaiah's prophecy of Christ's birth as "the rising of a great light which breaks through the night." As recounted in the Gospel, the "sign" given to the shepherds by the angels was that of "a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).
This "sign," the Pope said, "is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations."
In the liturgy of Christmas night, Pope Francis said, the Savior's birth is presented as "the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness," his presence canceling "the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery," and ushering "in joy and happiness."
In turn, having entered God's house, we too have "passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the 'great light'."
"By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon."
Pope Francis recalled the "violence, wars, hatred and oppression" which unfolded following Cain's murder of his brother Abel, recounted in Genesis chapter four.
Notwithstanding this history marked by violence and conflict, "God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting," and "continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples."
"Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night."
The birth of Christ, he said, gives rise to the way in which we reflect on the tenderness of God "who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness."
"How do we welcome the tenderness of God?" he asked. Rather than merely seeking God, we should ask whether we allow ourselves to be found, and loved, by God.
"Do we have the courage," the Pope continued, "to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!
"The Christian response cannot be different from God's response to our smallness," he said. Rather, "when we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him."
In this light, Pope Francis called on the faithful to pray for "the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life," and "of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict".
Turning once again to the reading from Isaiah – "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" – the Holy Father said this light was not seen by the arrogant and proud. Such persons "made laws according to their own personal measures," and "were closed off to others."
However, Pope Francis added, the light was seen by those "unassuming," and "open to receiving the gift of God."
He concluded his homily by calling on the faithful to pray to the Blessed Mother, asking her to "show us Jesus!"
After the Mass, Pope Francis processed through the basilica carrying the statue of Jesus and placing it in the indoor nativity scene.