We have just begun a series of catecheses on the theme of hope, all the more appropriate in the Season of Advent. Up to now, the prophet Isaiah has been guiding us. Today, a few days from Christmas, I would like to reflect more specifically on the moment in which, so to speak, hope entered the world, with the Incarnation of the Son of God. Isaiah himself pre-announced the Messiah’s birth in some passages: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”: (7:14); and also “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1). The meaning of Christmas shines through these passages: God fulfils the promise making Himself man; He does not abandon His people, He comes close to the point of despoiling Himself of his divinity. Thus God shows His fidelity and inaugurates a new Kingdom, which gives a new hope to humanity. And what is this hope? Eternal life.
When there is talk of hope, it refers often to that which is not in man’s power and which is not visible. In fact, what we hope for goes beyond our strength and our gaze. However, Christ’s birth, inaugurating the Redemption, speaks to us of a different hope, a reliable, visible and comprehensible hope, because it is founded on God. He entered the world and gave us the strength to walk with him: God walks with us in Jesus and to walk with Him towards the fullness of life gives us the strength to be in the present in a new way, though laborious. For the Christian to hope, therefore, means the certainty of being on the way with Christ towards the Father, who awaits us. Hope never stops, hope is always on the way and makes us walk forward. This hope, which the Child of Bethlehem gives us, offers a goal, a good destiny to the present, the salvation of humanity, beatitude to the one who entrusts himself to the merciful God. Saint Paul summarizes all this with the expression: “For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24). That is, walking in this way, with hope, we are saved. And here, we can each ask ourselves the question: do I walk with hope or is my interior life stopped, closed? Is my heart a closed drawer or a drawer open to hope, which has me walk with Christ, and not alone?
During the Season of Advent, the Crib is prepared in Christians’ homes, according to the tradition that goes back to Saint Francis of Assisi. In its simplicity, the Crib transmits hope; each of the personages is immersed in this atmosphere of hope.
We note first of all the place where Jesus is born: Bethlehem. A small borough of Judea where a thousand years earlier David was born, the shepherd chosen by God as King of Israel. Bethlehem is not a capital, therefore it is preferred by Divine Providence, which loves to act through the little ones and humble ones. In that place, the much awaited “son of David” was born, Jesus, in whom God’s hope and man’s hope meet.
Then we look at Mary, Mother of Hope. With her “Yes” she opened the door of our world to God: her girl’s heart was full of hope, all animated by faith; and so God chose her and she believed in His word. She, who for nine months was the Ark of the new and eternal Covenant, contemplated the Child in the cavern and saw in Him the love of God, who comes to save His people and the whole of humanity.
At Mary’s side is Joseph, descendant of Jesse and David; he too believed in the Angel’s words and, looking at Jesus in the manger, he meditated that that Child came from the Holy Spirit, and that God Himself ordered him to call him thus, “Jesus.” In that name is every man’s hope, because through that son of woman, God will save humanity from death and sin. Therefore, it is important to look at the Crib!
Also at the Crib are the shepherds, who represent the humble and the poor who were awaiting the Messiah, the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). In that Child they saw the fulfilment of the promises and they hope that God’s salvation will finally reach each one of them. One who trusts in his own securities, especially material, does not await God’s salvation. Let’s get this in our head: our securities will not save us; the only security that saves us is that of hope in God. He saves us because He is strong and makes us walk in life with joy, with the desire to do good, with the desire to become happy for eternity. Instead, the little ones, the shepherds, trust in God, hope in Him and rejoice when they recognize in that Child the sign indicated by the Angels (cf. Luke 2:12).
And in fact the choir of Angels proclaims from on high the great design that the Child carries out: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Christian hope is expressed in praise and thanksgiving to God, who has inaugurated His Kingdom of love, justice and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, in these days, contemplating the Crib, we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Birth. It will be truly a celebration if we receive Jesus, seed of hope that God deposits in the furrows of our personal and communal history. Every “Yes” to Jesus who comes is a seed of hope. Let us have confidence in this seed of hope, in this yes: “Yes, Jesus, you can save me, you can save me.” A Happy Christmas of hope to all!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
In the atmosphere of joyful expectation of Christmas, now close, I am pleased to greet affectionately the Italian-speaking faithful. I greet the Genitori de Stelle Association, with the Bishop of Avezzano, Monsignor Pietro Santoro; the delegation of the Municipality of Bolsena and the members of the Association of Bakers of Rome.
I greet the scouts with the torch of the cradle of the Nativity at Bethlehem; the Mariana Betania Oasis Community of Alvito and the students, particularly those of the Capriotti Institute of San Benedetto del Tronto. I invite all to prayer and to commitment in works of mercy so that Christmas is a personal encounter with the Lord and arouses in us resolutions of goodness and solidarity.
Finally, a special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, prepare yourselves for the mystery of the Incarnation with the obedience of faith and humility, which were Mary’s. You, dear sick, draw from her that strength and ardor for Jesus who comes among us. And you, dear newlyweds, contemplate the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth, to practice the same virtues in your family life’s journey.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
THE HOLY FATHER’S APPEAL
In the light of my recent meeting with the President and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I address again a heartfelt appeal to all the Congolese so that, in this delicate moment of their history, they are architects of reconciliation and peace. May those who have political responsibilities listen to the voice of their consciences, be able to see the cruel sufferings of their countrymen and have the common good at heart. In assuring, my support and my affection to the beloved people of that country, I invite all to allow themselves to be guided by the light of the Redeemer of the world and I pray that the Lord’s Birth will open paths of hope.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent Lectionary: 197
Reading 1SG 2:8-14
Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! “For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!
“O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.
Responsorial PsalmPS 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21
R. (1a; 3a) Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises. Sing to him a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. But the plan of the LORD stands forever; the design of his heart, through all generations. Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield, For in him our hearts rejoice; in his holy name we trust. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
R. Alleluia, alleluia. O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God! R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”