By Archbishop Francesco Follo

                                                                     CHRISTMAS 2020

                        Christmas: birth of the Heart of our heart, amazed by Light, Joy, and Simplicity[1]

                                                   Mass of the night, dawn, and of Christmas day

 Introduction.

The Church with its liturgy helped us making our hearts so different that Heaven finds more space in it. For us, with the heart inhabited by Christ, it is possible to have a “heavenly behavior” where the concern to avoid sin is greater than the concern of avoiding Covid-19. It is with this behavior that we obtain to ” groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies “(Rom 8:23).

We are faced with a new Christmas that completes the Christmas of Bethlehem: the pilgrimage that the Son of God made from Heaven to Earth is renewed in our hearts, in our families and communities.

The new instead of the old, the truth instead of the shadows, the light instead of the deep night (3 Adv. F. 2 Resp 3). The newness of Christ began from the moment when the Virgin Mary said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord”, and “the Word became flesh” and it grew like the vine that puts out its branches. We too, through his total gift from the cradle to the cross, are made partakers of his divine nature. Let us make Our Lady’s “Yes” our own, and Christ will make his home in us, living nativities. Moreover, he will make us more like him in whom our nature has been united with him (cf. Nat Di Missa 1 Secr.).

The Child lying in the crib has come to make us children like Him, but not like the idea of ​​children that we theoretically or emotionally have. In fact, only “the children will enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18: 3) because they are like this Child who is Life and source of life. The Savior of the world born “today” not only makes us reborn in Him but gives us immortality.

1) The Living Nativity: us.

An anonymous wrote: “Our body is the Living Nativity in the places where we are called to live and work. Our legs are like those of the animals that have warmed Jesus the night of His birth. Our belly is like that of Mary who welcomed and nurtured Jesus. Our arms are like those of Joseph who rocked, raised, embraced Jesus, and worked for Him. Our voice is like that of the angels that praise the Word that became flesh. Our eyes are like those of the ones who saw Him in the night in the manger. Our ears are like those of the shepherds who heard -amazed- the angelic song coming from the sky. Our intelligence is like that of the Magi who followed the star to the “home” of Jesus, the cave. Our heart is like the manger that welcomed the Lord who became small and poor like one of us.”

Let us go to the crèche to become more and more a Living Nativity that reveals the Man and God. The man that we are not yet but that we are called to be and the God that cannot manifest himself if not in a diaphanous humanity that makes go through itself this Love that is only Love.

If we go to the crèche it is because Christmas is the center of the Universal History. It is in relation to Christmas that all ages are counted.

If we go to the crèche it is because the birth of Christ is our birth, our dignity, our greatness, and our freedom.

If we go to the manger it is because God there reveals himself not any more as a master who dominates us, claiming rights over us, but as a sweet Love that wants to hide in us and that continues to wait for us because the “only” thing that He can do is to always love us.

 2) Christmas: a fact, not an emotion, much less a fairy tale.

The Liturgy of Midnight and of the dawn of Christmas Mass offers the narrative of the birth of Jesus according to Luke (2.1 to 20). In the Mass of the day the claims of the prologue (introduction) of the Gospel of St. John on the divine origin of the Word are not ends in themselves, but necessary to understand the incarnation and Jesus in his role as revelator. The center of the prologue (introduction) is the statement: “The Word became flesh” (1:14).

The narration of St. Luke begins with a historical background: date, place, people and causes of the event.[2]

On the night of this Christmas day, from the gentle womb of Mary, Love was born in the world, incarnate in human flesh. The birth of Jesus is a historic event that happened at a time and in a particular place. When this fact is announced to the shepherds, they say to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us ” (Lk 2:15).

The shepherds of Bethlehem say to each other let us “go beyond”[3] to see the baby. It is precisely to “cross” the night and the heart, to go beyond, to dare the step that goes beyond the “crossing” through which we exit our modes of thoughts and life and go beyond the purely material world to come to the essential.

Going beyond means, ultimately, to change our ill relationship with time and with people. The shepherds hurried. A holy curiosity and a holy joy drove them. Among us, perhaps, it happens very rarely that we hasten to the things of God. Nowadays, God is not part of the urgent reality. The things of God, we think and say, can wait. Yet He is the most important reality, the One who, in the final analysis, is important.

When they came to the cave after the crossing, what did the shepherds see?

A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger as the angels had announced. It is the wonder of Christmas: to be proclaimed Lord, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah and Savior is a child who has as a throne a manger and a cave as a royal palace. The overall simplicity of the first nativity is surprising. The detail that most surprises is the absence in the cave of any wonderful sign. The shepherds are wrapped and awed by the glory of God, but the sign that they receive from the Angels is simply “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.” And when they come to Bethlehem, they see nothing but “a child in the manger.”

The wonder of Christmas is here. Without the revelation of the angels, we would not understand that the child lying in a manger is the Lord. It is the wonder of Christmas: to be proclaimed Lord, Messiah and Savior is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Without the baby in the manger, we would not understand that the glory of the true God is different from the glory of man. The glory of God is the life of man in peace (cf. St. Irenaeus) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom God loves.” Peace among men is the earthly transcript of what happens in heaven. Thanks to Christmas we can really make ours the singing of the angels announcing that there is glory in the highest and peace on earth and among men. If you want to give glory to God, you must build peace.

Let us identify with the shepherds who were the first worshipers of the Body of the Incarnate Word of God. Let us go to Jesus with the same faith of the shepherds who once believe the Angel. Let us imitate them in their humble generosity which they exercised offering the little that they had, “milk and cloths of white wool.”  Let us follow them in their sincere love for Christ: when they did return to their homes and their flocks, they left their heart in Bethlehem. It is a heart that the baby Jesus gave back to them enriched of love. Then they were able to walk the path of life because it is not enough thinking about life to go through it; it is love that pushes forward and beyond.

3) “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) in Bethlehem.

Becoming flesh the Word of God was made manifest. It is a Word that not only is felt but that is lived and allows to live. “Flesh” also means that the Word did not recoil from the opacity of history, but on the contrary entered it, sharing it. The Word of God is transmitted to man through a deep sharing of experiences, fitting in the contradictions of man, in his death and in his grief, in his request and in his defeats. Jesus is truly God among us, the companion of our existence. Jesus Christ is the event in which the alliance desired by God with each of us is fulfilled before our eyes in an exemplary way.

This too is the beauty of the Christmas in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem! In Hebrew, the city where Jesus was born according to the Scriptures means “house of bread.” There was born the Messiah who would say of himself: “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6, 35.48).

In Bethlehem was born the One who, in the sign of the broken bread, would leave us the memorial of his Easter. The Adoration of the Child Jesus in this Holy Night continues in the Eucharistic adoration. We love the Lord who became flesh to save our flesh, and who became living Bread to give life to every human being. We recognize as our only God this fragile child who is helpless in the manger. “In the fullness of time you became a man among men to unite the end to the beginning, that is, man to God” (see St. Irenaeus, Adv. Hear., IV, 20.4). In the Son of the Virgin, “wrapped in swaddling clothes” and lying “in a manger” (Lk 2:12), we acknowledge and adore “the Bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6, 41.51), the Redeemer who came to give life the world.

4)  In Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to life.

We too, this Christmas say to each other: let us go – or rather, return- to Bethlehem. Let us return to the simplicity and purity of the origins; let us rediscover the cradle where we were born. We have moved too far away from Bethlehem; our faith is overloaded with complicated and sometimes abstruse reasoning that clashes with the beauty of this “baby in the manger.”

A– Concretely: what does it mean for us now to go to Bethlehem?

It is not enough to visit the Nativity in a church, or the one which we make at home, and to contemplate the mystery of Jesus child with Mary, Joseph, the ox, the donkey, the shepherds, and the Magi. We must ensure that all we are and all we have can bring the good news of this mystery of joy and peace to men, and especially to the poor.

This is a Mystery that continues, not a legend for children. Memory rescues faith, but more than memory, it is to see how the Lord enters in every moment in our world to stay with us.

Every day there is a poor “Christ” that stops by us, who goes down into our poverty, and accepts our hospitality.

Every day, for those who believe, it is Christmas.

Christ is born today. Let us go to see Him.

What can we say to Him? Everything, because a child does not give us awe. Even the beggars speak to the children they meet in the street; even people who do not know or do not dare to talk to anyone have courage in front of a child. A child understands every language.

What can we ask to Him? Everything. Or nothing:  let us ask Him “only” to remain with us. We can still be bad, but if he stays with us, evil is overcome and then we will feel less pain in the heart. Today, there is already something new: He is there.

B– Concretely: how can now we walk away from the crib, which keeps the baby Jesus?

Imitating the shepherds who went back to their fold and to their homes (daily life) glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. We now are called to do the same: to glorify God for the word that we have heard, for the bread that He now breaks for us, for the joy that He has multiplied in our heart. Returning home, we are called to tell others what we have learned not from a child, but from this child to whom Mary gave birth in Bethlehem. A young woman gave birth to the Light that enters the world to stay with us always, as St. John the Evangelist teaches us when he writes about the Christmas of the World: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

C- Concretely: how can we be the abode of Christ?

Imitating the Virgin Mary. If we say yes to God as she did, it means that in the deep of our heart at least a little generosity is still alive. Like the Virgin Mary we want God to dwell in us, and this always happens whenever humbly and quietly we accept Christ in the depths of our hearts.

Looking at the crib and seeing the Child entrusted to Mary, I understand why the Almighty becomes a child. The omnipotence wears the biggest impotence letting to be “protected” by a humble woman, asks everyone, and needs everything, even a humble stable, the breath of an ox and a donkey, a little straw, a cave, which is the home of the Condescending. The Nativity is the school that confounds the wise and puts down the mighty, brings peace with the love that gives life because it is a poor force the force that kills. The love of God is so great that does not need strength to present itself.

In the Nativity, Mary becomes the ostensory showing the love of Jesus. The consecrated Virgins in the world, and we with them, are called to be the cradle of the true Adam, where the whole world is brought into the world in divine communion. “I expect, therefore, that the ‘spirituality of communion’, indicated by St. John Paul II, becomes a reality and that you are at the forefront in understanding ‘the great challenge that lies before us’ in this new millennium: to make the Church the home and the school of communion “(Pope Francis, Letter for the Year of the consecrated Life, November 2014).

Patristic Reading

From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope

(Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3: PI, 54, 190-193)

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

[1] The Eucharistic liturgy of this Christmas Sunday is full of texts for the various celebrations: the eve, the night, the dawn, and the day; they are all significant and even suggestive moments. Therefore, I try to humbly offer a reflection on the three moments to meditate together on the truth of Christmas and contemplate its beauty.

[2]In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus* that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So, all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” (Lk 2,1-5)

[3] This the literally translation from the Greek dielthomen and the Latin transeamus from which comes the word transit.

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