Christmas Homily 2020
Bethlehem, December 24, 2020
Is 9:1-6; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone” (Is 9:1).
My dear people,
The prophecy of Isaiah and the Christmas Gospel that we have just heard illuminates this year the night of the shepherds and the nights of the whole world.
Everyone feels darkened, tired, exhausted, oppressed for too long under the heavy burden of this pandemic that besieges our lives, paralyzing relationships, putting politics, economics, culture, and society to a severe test. Ancient structural weaknesses have amplified, and no clear and shared solutions seem to be on the horizon.
Even those who govern us are groping in the dark. Christian communities, for their part, struggle to maintain established rhythms over time and are unable to imagine the new that will come.
Many in recent months, like I and better, have tried to make a diagnosis, to imagine future scenarios, to paint the current situation in more or less dark colors.
However, in my first Christmas Mass as a Patriarch, I do not want to give voice to those who know well how to describe the night. I must, and I want, to give voice to the prophecy, to echo the Gospel, to communicate the grace of this hour to you.
Yes, brothers and sisters, for what we are experiencing here, now, is an hour of grace!
It is not a pious delusion, nor a romantic escape into a reassuring religion or cheap consolation.
“A child was born for us; a Son is given to us”: this is the certainty of Christians. The night, any night, is not the last word on our history and that of humanity. If He who is “Light from Light” was born at night, then the night also belongs to the day. Indeed, the night becomes Christmas; that is, it becomes the place of new and possible birth. We Christians know that at the bottom of our crises, within our darkness, amid our weaknesses, a child who is a powerful God was born, and with Him, a new story of trust and hope, rebirth and resurrection began. The divine life that Christ brings us as a gift can and wants to transform death into life, pain into hope, fear into trust. Believing in Him is not unreasonably denying reality but having a new and profound gaze enables us to see the pain of new birth in the pain of creation. Believing is to continue walking, not with the tenacity of those who never give up, but the confidence of those who await and strive towards a goal.
“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Ti 2:11). On this world’s stage, evil, suffering and death are not the only actors. If evil abounds, grace abounds even more. It operates in minds and hearts; it teaches new ways of justice, peace, hope, and life. What happened here 2000 years ago is neither a fairy tale nor a myth, but the beginning of a new story, of which if we want, we can be the protagonists. A mysterious but real presence fills the world with itself. The life that began here in Bethlehem has defeated death and authorizes us to hope for that victory that is still taking place. Hoping in the grace of Christ is not deluding oneself but finding reasons to commit oneself to build a new order. The pandemic, with its burden of suffering and death, asks us to imagine a different world, made up of new solidarity and fraternal relationships, where possession is replaced by the gift, and the wealth of a few becomes good for everyone.
“Today is born for us a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). There is salvation, and it has a face and a name: that of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, the Wisdom, and glory of the Father who, by His mercy, has willed to share our joys and sorrows until death and beyond. He walked our same paths; He cried our tears; He shared our sufferings by washing our feet to the end. With the Incarnation, He united Himself in some way with every man, taking what is ours and giving us what is His (cf. GS 22). In this city of Bethlehem, He was born to make Himself food and drink, teaching us that there is no salvation outside of love given and received. To save man is to serve Him: and we will be protected from this and all other crises and disasters only if we make the good of all our supreme interest. “The Christmas of the Head is the Christmas of the Body,” writes Saint Leo the Great (Discourse VI for Christmas). We have realized, in this tragedy, that we are all connected, and that we are responsible for each other: The Church, the Body of Christ, has always known this: the Savior who was born today makes us also reborn to the awareness that we are all children and therefore all brothers and sisters, as the Holy Father reminds us and that for this reason, love is the only correct way of salvation.
Brothers and sisters,
Tonight, we do not want, and we cannot forget the sadness and worry that grips the world’s heart as in a vice. Even here in the Holy Land, we are no exception. We live in a land with plurality and openness to the world as its vocation, but we continually witness opposite attitudes. Instead of being inclusive, we are increasingly exclusive: instead of recognizing each other, we deny each other. I am thinking of our faithful who live in Palestine: for them also, as for Mary and Joseph, there seems to be no place in the world, continually invited, before being able to live with dignity in their home, to await an unknown and repeatedly postponed future.
But we do not want, and we cannot even forget that with the birth of Christ, God Himself entered the world, directing its path towards a future of joy and peace. Amid our fears, we want to grasp the hand that Christ offers us for a renewed journey of trust, hope, and love.
We, therefore, tonight want to contemplate Him with the Shepherds, sing to Him with the Angels, welcome Him with Mary and Joseph, offer Him with the Magi, the incense of our difficult faith, the myrrh of our suffering hope, and the gold of our trusting love, and get back on the road.
We ask Him, mighty God, to defeat sickness, evil, and death and give us back happy and serene days.
We want to ask Him, Admirable Counselor, to enlighten politicians, doctors, and researchers, and those who sincerely seek just and real solutions for the good of all.
We deliver to Him, Father forever, the sick, the poor, the suffering, and the dead, so that all may be visited by His mercy which heals, comforts, consoles, and vivifies.
We entrust to Him, Prince of Peace, this land of ours and this Church of ours, whose wounds make it even more difficult to heal in this painful and challenging time.
We ask Him, Grace of God made flesh, to be converted from our selfishness and from our closures to good and holy thoughts and works so that our faithful and concrete collaboration corresponds to His indescribable gift.
We promise to give Him, our Savior and Lord, what we are and have. Thus will “His way be known upon the earth, and His victory among all the nations” (cf. Ps 67:3).
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem