On Jan. 3, Pope Benedict XVI held his first general audience of the new year in the Paul VI Hall. He reflected on how the Christmas season “invites us to rejoice for the birth of the Redeemer.” The Holy Father concluded his reflections by encouraging Christians to follow the example of the many holy men and women throughout the history of the Church who welcomed Jesus into their lives, becoming beacons of light and hope.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you for your warm greeting. I wish all of you a Happy New Year! This first general audience of the New Year still takes place within the Christmas season, a time that invites us to rejoice for the birth of the Redeemer. Coming into the world, Jesus poured out his gifts of goodness, mercy and love in abundance upon mankind. In a way that expresses the feelings of men and women throughout the ages, the apostle John made the following observation: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).

Those who pause to meditate before the Son of God as he lies helpless in the manger cannot but marvel at this event, which, from a human perspective, is simply incredible; they cannot but share the wonder and the humble abandonment of the Virgin Mary, whom God chose as the Mother of the Redeemer precisely because of her humility. In the child of Bethlehem, every human being discovers that he is freely loved by God; in the light of Christmas, God’s infinite goodness is revealed to each of us. In Jesus, the heavenly Father began a new relationship with us: he made us “sons in the Son.” This is the reality St. John invites us to meditate on during this season through the richness and the depth of his words, a portion of which we have heard.

God’s Children

The Lord’s beloved apostle emphasizes that “so we are” his children (1 John 3:1). We are not merely creatures; we are children. In this way, God is close to us; in this way, he draws us to himself at the moment of his incarnation by becoming one of us. Thus, we truly belong to the family that has God as its Father because Jesus, the Only Begotten Son, came to make his dwelling among us — the dwelling place of his flesh—in order to gather together all peoples into one family — the family of God — that truly belongs to the Divine Being, united into one people, one family. He came to reveal the true face of the Father to us.  Now when we use the word God, it is no longer a reality that we know only from a distance. We know God’s face: It is the face of the Son who came to make the heavenly realities nearer to us here on earth. As St. John observes: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us” (1 John 4:10).

At Christmas, this simple yet perturbing proclamation resounds throughout the world: “God loves us.” “We love,” St. John says, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This mystery has now been entrusted to us so that, by experiencing God’s love, we may reach for heavenly realities. And this, let’s say, is also the exercise throughout these days: to live our lives truly reaching for God, seeking, first of all, his Kingdom and his justice, certain that the rest, all the rest, will be given to us as well (see Matthew 6:33). The spiritual climate of the Christmas season helps us to grow in this awareness.

Light Amid the Darkness

However, amid the joy of Christmas, we never forget the mystery of evil (mysterium iniquitatis), the power of darkness that tries to obscure the splendor of God’s light. Unfortunately, we experience the power of this darkness every day. In the prologue to his Gospel, which is proclaimed several times during this season, the Evangelist John writes: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). It is the tragedy of rejecting Christ, which, as in the past, also today, unfortunately, shows and expresses itself in many different ways. The ways in which we reject God in this modern age are perhaps even more insidious and dangerous, ranging from outright rejection to indifference, from pseudo-scientific atheism to the portrayal of a supposedly modern or post-modern Jesus, a human Jesus who has been reduced in various ways to a simple man of his times, stripped of his divinity, or even a Jesus who is so idealized as to seem at times like a character in a fairy tale.

Open Hearts and Minds

However, Jesus, the true Jesus of history, is truly God and truly man and tirelessly  proclaims his Gospel to everyone, knowing that, as the old man Simeon prophesied, he is “a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (see Luke 2:34-35). In reality, only the child lying in the manger possesses the true secret of life. That’s why he asks us to accept him, to make room for him in our midst — in our hearts, our homes, our cities and our society. The words from John’s prologue resound in our minds and in our hearts: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Let us try to be among those who accept him. Before him, nobody can remain indifferent. We too, my dear friends, have to constantly take sides. What, then, will our answer be? With what kind of attitude will we receive him?

The simplicity of the shepherds and the quest of the Magi who, through the star, sought God’s signs come to our aid; Mary’s docility and Joseph’s wise prudence are examples for us. More than two thousand years of Christian history are filled with examples of men and women—young people and adults, children and the elderly—who believed in the mystery of Christmas and opened their arms to Emmanuel, becoming, through their lives, beacons of light and hope. The love that Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, brought into the world binds to himself all those who accept him in a lasting relationship of friendship and brotherhood. As St. John of the Cross says, “God, by giving us everything, namely his Son, has already said everything in him. Fix your eyes on him alone…and there you will find even more than what you ask for and desire” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 1, Letters 22:4-5).

Dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of this New Year, let us reawaken within us a commitment to open our minds and our hearts to Christ, showing him a sincere desire to truly live as his friends. In this way, we will become collaborators in his plan of salvation and witnesses of the gift of joy that he gives us so that we will spread it abundantly about us. May Mary help us to open our hearts to the Emmanuel, who took on our poor and fragile flesh in order to share with us our difficult journey of life here on earth! But with Jesus as our companion, this difficult journey will become a journey of joy. Let us go forward with Jesus. Let us walk with him. In this way, the New Year will be a happy and prosperous year.

Register translation of the Jan. 3, general audience.