by Pope Benedict XVI.
The angel went to Mary and said, "Rejoice, so highly favored one! The Lord is with you."
Often the word of the angel is translated as "Hail, Mary," but the Greek word, the word the angel used, was kaire, which means "be glad" or "rejoice." And here is a surprising thing, for the greeting among the Jews was shalom, "peace."
It is with this dialogue, which the Angel Gabriel has with Mary, that the New Testament really begins. We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy.
The New Testament is truly "Gospel," the "Good News" that brings us joy.
It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God, or simply no God.
Religions at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another.
Thus they were afraid that if they did something for one of them, another might be offended and seek revenge.
So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves. It was a dark world.
Then they heard, "Rejoice, these demons are nothing. The true God exists, and this true God is good. He loves us. He knows us. He is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh."
This is the great joy that Christianity proclaims. Knowing that God is truly "Good News," a word of redemption.
Perhaps we Catholics, who have always known this, are no longer surprised and no longer feel this liberating joy keenly.
However, if we look at today’s world where God is absent, we cannot but note that it is also dominated by fears and uncertainties: Is it good to be a person or not? Is it good to be alive or not? Is it truly a good to exist? Or might everything be negative?
Those who do not know God really live in a dark world. They need anesthetics to be able to live.
Thus the words, "Rejoice, because God is with you; he is with us," are words that truly open a new epoch.
Dear friends, with an act of faith, we must once again accept and understand in the depths of our hearts this liberating word, "Rejoice!"
We cannot keep solely for ourselves this joy that we have received. Joy must always be shared. Joy must be communicated.
Mary went without delay to communicate her joy to her cousin Elizabeth. And ever since her Assumption into heaven, she has showered joy upon the whole world. She has become the great consoler, our Mother who communicates joy, trust, kindness, and also invites us to spread joy.
This is the real commitment of Advent: to bring joy to others.
Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not expensive presents that demand time and money.
We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness.
Let us give this joy, and the joy given will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy: that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that this presence of God’s liberating joy will shine out in our lives.
—Excerpted from a homily given at Santa Maria Consolatrice, a parish in Rome, December 18, 2006, the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
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