by Pope Benedict XVI.
In 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, [thereby creating the first crèche] a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light….
Francis discovered Christ’s humanity in an entirely new depth. And this human existence of God became more visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger….
For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. The loving kindness of God our Savior for mankind was revealed—this phrase of St. Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable, we can touch and caress God….
This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in the new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed.
Francis loved the Child Jesus because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of a stable.
In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love. He put himself in the position of asking for human love—our love.
Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season and to discover behind it the Child in the stable of Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.
Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up.
Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback.
Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down.
It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our "enlightened" reason.
We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness.
We must follow the interior path of St. Francis—the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see.
We must bend down; spiritually we must, as it were, go on foot, in order to pass through the door of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions—the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.
In this spirit, let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night. Let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart.
And let us also pray for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty and in suffering, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they—and we—may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.
—Excerpted from the homily of the 2011 Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica
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