The Christmas Light

December 24 2019 | by

POPE Francis was baptized on Christmas day 1936 when he was eight days old. So, it is understandable that Christmas is particularly special to him. The celebration of Midnight Mass has always been a highpoint for Pope Francis. When he celebrated this Mass in his Cathedral in Buenos Aires he was often joined by some Jewish friends, including the directors of the Latin American Jewish Congress and the Delegation of Israeli Association of Argentina. After Mass he would have a simple supper in the sacristy with his guests. Then on Christmas Day he usually visited the priests’ retirement home, spending time with the retired priests. In 2012, during his last Midnight Mass as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, in his homily he invited his listeners to do two simple things next to the manger, “first, let us sit down invited by the beauty of humility, of meekness, of simplicity; secondly, let us look in our hearts at what point we are on the outside, at what point we are marginalized and let Jesus call us from that lack, from that limit, from that selfishness.”


God’s grace


In today’s media world, millions of people tune in to the television broadcasts of Midnight Mass from the Vatican. Every year the Vatican is at the center of the Christmas message; what the Pope says is reported. The media pays more attention to St. Peter’s Basilica than it does even to Bethlehem; it pays more attention to the Holy Father on this night than it does even at Easter.

Therefore, what the Pope says on this night reaches a wider audience than almost anything else that he does throughout the year. In 2013, during his first Christmas as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis preached a short homily about the true heart of the Christmas mystery. “On this night,” he said, “the proclamation of the Apostle rings out like a burst of brilliant light, ‘God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race.’ The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father, Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.” This is the true center of Christmas, this is the heart of Francis’ message.




In his homily for Christmas’ Midnight Mass the following year, he continued on the same theme. “We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God” he said. “We 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 reminded his listeners that at Christmas all of us are invited to “contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger.” This contemplation causes us to ask ourselves, “how do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?” The most important question posed to us “by the Infant’s presence” is “do I allow God to love me?” Christmas causes us to appreciate “how much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.”


Time of rest


In 2014, during his annual presentation of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis advised that “a time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously, by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging. We need to learn from Qohelet that ‘for everything there is a season.’”

That same year in his meeting with the personnel of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State and with their families, he spoke with them about the need for care at Christmas. He advised them during Christmas to “most of all take care of the family.” Because “the family is a treasure, children are a treasure.” In this sense young parents should ask themselves, “do I have time to play with my children, or am I always busy, busy, and have no time for my children?” The Holy Father left them with the advice that during Christmas especially, parents should play with their children as “it is so beautiful, and this is to sow the future.” He reminded them that the “true Christmas” is “the celebration of the poverty of God, who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant; of God who set himself to serve at table; of God who hides from the wise and understanding, and who reveals Himself to babes, to the simple and the poor; of the ‘Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” But above all else, the Holy Father reflected, Christmas is “the celebration of Peace on earth brought by the Baby Jesus, ‘peace between heaven and earth, peace between all peoples, peace in our hearts’; the peace sung by the angels, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will.’”


Joy and gladness


In 2015, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the significance of the Christmas light in his homily for midnight Mass. “Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes,” he said. “The Savior of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem.” A little later he continued, “this is the reason for our joy and gladness, this Child has been ‘born to us;’ he was ‘given to us,’ as Isaiah proclaims. The people who for two thousand years have traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known ‘the Prince of peace’ and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.”

The Christmas light is not simply for our personal consolation and wellbeing. Jesus was born on the first Christmas so that he could help us to be better people, particularly by helping those we come into contact with. During Midnight Mass in 2017, Pope Francis reflected on how “the faith we proclaim [at Christmas] makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent. He is present in the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors.” Indeed, the light of Christmas “impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth. Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity… In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us, so that we can take him into our arms, lift him and embrace him. So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned… In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope. He invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality.”


House of bread


Last year Pope Francis reflected on the significance of Bethlehem during Christmas Mass. The Hebrew word for Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread.’ The Holy Father challenges us to acknowledge that “once Jesus dwells in our heart, the center of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love.” At Christmas “we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves, what is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn Child a new fragrance of life, the odor of simplicity, let us ask ourselves, do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?” We need to open ourselves to the spirit of Bethlehem, “Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn-out meals, but bids us rise quickly from the table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves, at Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?”

In his Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas Day last year, Pope Francis concluded his speech by addressing the following heartfelt wishes to all of us, “May the little Child whom we contemplate today in the manger, in the cold of the night, watch over all the children of the world, and every frail, vulnerable and discarded person. May all of us receive peace and consolation from the birth of the Savior and, in the knowledge that we are loved by the one heavenly Father, realize anew that we are brothers and sisters, and come to live as such!

Updated on December 24 2019