(Vatican News) During his general audience of Wednesday, Pope Francis urges Christians to make the celebration of the birth of Jesus rich in faith, not merely a sentimental or consumerist event.
Christmas teaches us that God did not look down upon us and pass by but He fully assumed our nature and our human condition, except sin. This event gives meaning to human existence and to the whole of history and can remove the pessimism generated by the pandemic. Pope Francis made the point in this week’s general audience, two days before Christmas.
Overcoming worldly mentality
The birth of Jesus, he noted, has become a universal feast and has a charm about it even among people of other faiths. For Christians, it is a “decisive event, an eternal fire that God has kindled in the world, and must not be confused with ephemeral things”. Hence, “it is important that it should not be reduced to a merely sentimental or consumerist festival, full of gifts and good wishes but poor in Christian faith.”
Last Sunday, the Pope said he drew attention to this problem, pointing out that consumerism has “hijacked” Christmas from us. Christmas, he said, must not be reduced to a merely sentimental or consumerist celebration, rich in gifts and good wishes but poor in Christian faith, and also poor in humanity. “It is necessary," he said, "to curb a certain worldly mentality, incapable of grasping the incandescent core of our faith:” namely God became man and dwelt among us.
God’s goodness overcomes man’s failures
This fact, the Pope explained, invites us to reflect on two things. On the one hand, there is the drama of history, in which men and women, wounded by sin, ceaselessly search for truth, mercy and redemption. On the other, there is the goodness of God, who has come towards us to communicate to us the Truth that saves and to make us sharers in His friendship and His life, which is pure grace, no something we merit.
The simplicity and humanity of Christmas, the Pope said, can remove from our hearts and minds the pessimism that has spread today because of the pandemic. As we rediscover and become aware that the humble and poor Child, hidden and helpless, is God Himself, made man for us, the Pope said, we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by defeats, failures and the sense of disquieting bewilderment.
The event of the birth of Jesus shows us that “God did not look down on us, did not pass us by, was not repulsed by our misery, did not clothe Himself superficially in a body, but rather He fully assumed our nature and our human condition”. “He left nothing out except sin: all humanity is in Him. He took all that we are, just as we are.” This, the Pope said, is essential to understanding the Christian faith.
Tenderness - the “Infirmity” of Jesus
In this regard, he recalled the journey of St. Augustine’s conversion, who in his Confessions recounts: "For I did not hold to my Lord Jesus Christ, I, humbled, to the Humble; nor knew I yet where to His infirmity would guide us.”
“The ‘infirmity’ of Jesus,” the Pope said, “is a ‘teaching’ because “it reveals to us the love of God”. Christmas is the feast of Love incarnate where Jesus Christ is the light of mankind shining in the darkness, giving meaning to human existence and to the whole of history.
The Holy Father urged Christians to prepare for Christmas by meditating a little in silence before the crib in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, allowing ourselves to wonder at the "marvelous" way in which God wanted to come into the world be reborn in us. This, he said, will revive tenderness in us.
The Pope recalled meeting some scientists recently, who talked about many things a robot can do for a man. When he asked about something that a robot will never be able to do, they suggested several things, but in the end, agreed that a robot can never give tenderness. The Holy Father said, "This is what God brings to us today - a wonderful way in which God wanted to come into the world, and this revives in us the human tenderness that is close to God's tenderness.” Today we are so much in need of tenderness and human caresses in the face of so much misery. “If the pandemic has forced us to be more distant,” Pope Francis said, “Jesus, in the crib, shows us the way of tenderness to be close to each other, to be human.”