VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI reminded Christians not to be dazzled by the shopping lights of the Advent season but to keep focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, the “true Light of the world.”
“The external environment offers the usual commercial messages, even if in a lower-key way because of the economic crisis,” said the Pope during his Sunday Angelus address in a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square Dec. 11. The Christian, by contrast, is “called to live Advent without being distracted by the lights.”
Christians should keep their eyes fixed on Christ so that “if, in fact, we persevere ‘vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise,’ our eyes will be able to recognize in him the true light of the world that comes to enlighten our darkness.”
Tens of thousands of pilgrims were at St. Peter’s Square for the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. The title is taken from St. Paul’s injunction in the day’s reading: “gaudete in Domino semper,” meaning “rejoice always in the Lord.” The day marks a change in the Church’s liturgical colors from the somber purple of Advent to a more hopeful shade of rose.
Pope Benedict acknowledged the importance of time for rest and relaxation. However, he added that true joy is “not the result of fun,” but is “something more profound” that is “tied to the relationship with God.”
Those who have encountered Christ in their lives “experience in the heart a serenity and joy that no one and no situation can remove.”
The Pope paraphrased the famous words of the fourth and fifth-century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo. He searched elsewhere in vain for truth, peace and joy before concluding that “the heart of man is restless (and) cannot find peace and serenity until it rests in God.”
Therefore, true joy is not a “passing mood” nor “something that can be reached through its own efforts.” Instead, it is a gift “born from the encounter with the living person of Jesus.”
“In this season of Advent,” the Pope continued, “we strengthen our certainty that the Lord came among us and continually renews his consoling presence of love and joy.”
God is “closer to us than we are to ourselves,” he added, citing St. Augustine’s description of God as “more inward than my innermost and higher than my uppermost.”
After praying the Angelus with pilgrims, the Pope turned his thoughts and words to the thousands of families who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the traditional blessing of the “bambinelli,” the little statues of the Baby Jesus that will take pride of place in family cribs.
“Dear children,” said the Pope, “when you pray in front of your Nativity scene, remember me as well, as I remember you. Thank you and Merry Christmas!”
In response, the children cheered and released balloons and paper lanterns into the air in celebration and thanksgiving.
Pope Benedict XVI revealed his three Christmas wishes for this year just before remotely switching on the lights of the world’s largest Christmas tree.
“When we look at it our eyes are lifted up, raised toward the sky, toward the world of God,” said Pope Benedict from his papal apartment as he spoke via video link to the people of the Italian town of Gubbio in Umbria on the evening of Dec. 7.
Their tree is more than 2,000 feet tall and consists of hundreds of tiny light bulbs. The enormous display sits on the slopes of nearby Mount Ingino.
“My first wish,” he said, “is that our gaze, that of our minds and our hearts, rest not only on the horizon of this world, on its material things, but that it in some way, like this tree that tends upward, be directed toward God.”
He said that “God never forgets us, but he also asks that we don’t forget him.”
The Pope’s second wish was that everyone remember that we “need a light to illumine the path of our lives and to give us hope, especially in this time in which we feel so greatly the weight of difficulties, of problems, of suffering, and it seems that we are enshrouded in a veil of darkness.”
The light that “truly illuminate our hearts” and give us “firm and sure hope” can only be found in “the Child whom we contemplate on Christmas, in a poor and humble manger, because he is the Lord who draws near to each of us and asks that we receive him anew,” he said.
“My final wish,” concluded the Pope, “is that each of us contributes something of that light to the spheres in which we live: our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods, towns and cities.”
Pope Benedict also reflected on the season of Christmas and prayed that everybody will be a “light for those who are at our sides” so that we overcome our selfishness which so often “closes our hearts and leads us to think only of ourselves.”
He urged everyone to “pay greater attention to others, that we may love them more” during the Christmas season. “Any small gesture of goodness,” he said, “is like one of the lights of this great tree: together with other lights it illuminates the darkness of the night, even of the darkest night.”
The Pope then touched a computer tablet device and remotely illuminated Gubbio’s Christmas tree.