REGISTER SUMMARY Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the upcoming Christmas season during his general audience on Dec. 20. Benedict pointed out that for many centuries Israel had awaited the Messiah, imagining him as a powerful and victorious military leader who would offer them freedom. Instead, the Savior was born in absolute poverty and, as St. John notes, the true light that enlightens all people was not accepted by his own people. Pope Benedict XVI concluded his general audience by offering his best wishes for a holy and blessed Christmas.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, “The Lord is near. Come let us adore him!” During these last days of Advent, the liturgy invites us with these words to draw near — as though we were on the tips of our toes — to the stable in Bethlehem where the extraordinary event that changed the course of history took place: the birth of the Redeemer.

On Christmas Eve, we will stand once again before the manger to contemplate in awe the “Word made flesh.” As in past years, feelings of joy and gratitude are renewed within our hearts as we hear the melodies of Christmas carols, which, in many languages, extol this extraordinary miracle. Out of love, the Creator of the universe came to make his dwelling place among men. In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul affirms that Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).

Emptying himself, St. Paul adds, he appeared in human likeness. During the holy time of Christmas, we will relive the fulfillment of this sublime mystery of grace and mercy.

A Light to the World

St. Paul adds: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4-5). For many centuries, the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, but they envisioned him as a powerful and victorious military leader who would free his people from foreign oppression. Instead, the Savior was born amid silence and utmost poverty. He came as a light that enlightens everyone, John the Evangelist tells us, “but his own people did not accept him” (John 1:9, 11). “But to those who did accept him,” the apostle adds, “he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). The promised light enlightened the hearts of those who persevered and waited in vigilant and active expectation.

The Advent liturgy also exhorts us to be sober and vigilant, so that we are not weighed down by sin and excessive worldly concerns. Indeed, by keeping watch and praying, we will be able to recognize and receive the splendor of Christ’s birth.

In one of his homilies, St. Maximus of Turin, a bishop who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries, stated: “The season warns us that Christ’s birth is near. The world, with its own anxieties, speaks of the imminence of something that will renew it and waits with patient expectation for the splendor of a more brilliant sun that will give light to its darkness. ... This expectation of creation persuades even us to await the rising of Christ, the new Sun” (Sermons 61a:1-3). Creation itself, therefore, leads us to discover and recognize the one who is to come.

Man’s Quest for the Savior

Yet the question is as follows: Does mankind in our time still await a Savior? There is the impression that many people think of God as something that is extraneous to their own interests. From all appearances, they have no need of him; they live as though he did not exist, or, even worse, as though he were some “obstacle” that needs to be removed in order to find fulfillment.

Even among believers, we are certain, some people let themselves to be lured by tempting dreams and distracted by deceptive teachings that offer illusive shortcuts to happiness. However, despite its contradictions, anxieties and tragedies — or perhaps because of them — mankind today is seeking a path to renewal and salvation, seeking a Savior, and waiting, unconsciously at times, for the coming of the Lord who will renew the world and our lives, the coming of Christ, the one, true Redeemer of man and of all men.

Of course, false prophets continue to offer “cheap” salvation that always ends up causing bitter disappointment. In fact, the history of the last 50 years is evidence of this search for a “cheap” savior and points out all the disappointments that have resulted from it. It is our task as Christians to spread through the witness of our life the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to all men and women of good will. Born amid the poverty of the stable, Jesus comes to offer to everyone the joy and peace that alone can satisfy the expectations of the human spirit.

But how can we prepare ourselves to open our hearts to the Lord who is coming? The fundamental characteristic of a Christian during this Advent season continues to be a spiritual attitude of vigilant and prayerful expectation. It is the attitude that characterized the leading characters back in that time: Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Wise Men, the simple and humble people, but, above all, the hopeful expectation of Mary and Joseph! They, more than any of the others, experienced firsthand an apprehension and a trepidation for the Child that was about to be born.

It is not difficult to imagine how they spent those last days, waiting to hold the newborn baby in their arms. May we have the same attitude, dear brothers and sisters!

In this regard, let us listen to the exhortation of St. Maximus, the bishop of Turin, whom we mentioned earlier: “While we prepare to welcome the Lord’s birth, let us put on clean, stainless garments. I am speaking of the garments of the soul and not of the body. We do not have to be clothed in silk garments but in good works! Luxurious garments can cover parts of the body, but do not adorn the conscience!” (Sermons 61a:1-3).

May the Child Jesus, who is born among us, not find us distracted or simply devoted to decorating our homes with lights! Rather, let us prepare in our soul and in our families a dwelling that is worthy and in which he will feel welcomed in faith and in love. May the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph help us live the mystery of Christmas with a renewed sense of awe and in peaceful serenity!

With these sentiments, I wish to express to all of you here present and to your families my most heartfelt wishes for a holy and happy Christmas, remembering in a particular way those who are in difficulty or who are suffering in body and in spirit. Merry Christmas to you all!     

(Register translation)