For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith!
For the Kingdom of God to come!
Dear brothers, dear sisters, dear friends, Merry Christmas! Thank You to the Infant Jesus for being our joy today. Before Mass we sang: “For more than four thousand years the prophets have been promising Him to us. For more than four thousand years we have been awaiting this happy time.”1
Why did humanity await the Messiah for four thousand years? Why did He come that Christmas night? Because humanity sinned and therefore, in a way, man was rejected by God. But immediately after the sin of our first parents, in His great mercy God decided to forgive them and send them a Redeemer. Throughout the ages God raised up prophets, saints of the Old Testament, and for four thousand years they repeated: “Do not forget, people, do not forget the Saviour that God has promised us! You have isolated yourselves from Him by your sins. The Messiah will come, He will atone for your sins and show you the way to your great destiny.” This Redeemer was foretold by the prophets in great detail. Will the Messiah be a prophet, a great figure, a powerful man, even a king or an emperor? The Messiah will be more than all that, He will be God Himself!
It seems that after four thousand years, most people were no longer waiting for Him. People were living their little life as earthlings – as though, after life on earth, there was nothing else. The wait for the promised Messiah had been so long that lassitude lay over all the earth. And yet, God had chosen a nation to receive Him at His coming: the Jewish people. Even among them, people lived in distraction, lived only for the earth. The Israelites had not forgotten the promised Saviour, but most of them had disfigured His image. Their religion had become a multitude of exterior practices that Jesus would complain about: This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Vain is the worship they render unto Me, for they teach only doctrines and maxims of men.2 Because people were overwhelmed by their distractions, they were unable to recognize the signs of God. Saint John says at the beginning of his Gospel, He came unto His own and His own received Him not.3
Our destiny is not the earth, it is Heaven. Our destiny is to be with God for all eternity. Through sin, man parted from God and violated this guarantee of a blessed eternity with his Creator. God, who loved man with an infinite love, expected a loving response from him. Unfortunately, man loved himself in preference to God. This pride is the cause of the first sin and of all subsequent sins. The ego of our first parents is ours also; it is always the same self-love. My self-love becomes the center and takes the place of God.
How will the Messiah re-establish the filial bond between God and man, violently broken by sin? How will the Messiah repair His work of love? Open your eyes, or rather open your hearts to the Child Jesus. Infinite Love became incarnate, and on this Christmas night He comes to us as a frail little newborn babe. His first lesson is masterful, He already begins to show us the way to Him. In the grotto at Bethlehem, God our Creator comes in the greatest destitution. What a contrast with us humans who cling to the earth! We spend our lives weaving bonds the better to cling to the false goods of this world, its deceitful pleasures and vanities.
To better understand the circumstances of the coming of the Messiah, let us go back a little in time, a few days before His birth. In Nazareth, Mary and Joseph were leading a simple, peaceful, quiet life. Mary had been carrying Jesus in Her womb for almost nine months. She carried Him with great attention, knowing the great mystery of the Incarnation, of God made man. The Angel had revealed to Joseph the solemn mystery of the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Joseph and Mary were totally attentive to the momentous event that was being prepared. Contrary to the majority of people in their time, they were not distracted by earthly things.
A prophecy had foretold that the Messiah-Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem, a small town near Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Christmas Eve we read, In those days, a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus commanding a universal census of the nations.4 Caesar Augustus was an emperor, a conqueror who had expanded the Roman Empire considerably, in a manner that we can hardly imagine today. His colossal empire extended over Italy, Spain, Gaul, a large part of the Germanic tribes, Great Britain, Greece, the entire Mediterranean Basin, North Africa and Egypt, all the way to the East. All obeyed him. The emperor was a mere mortal like us, but he had altars and temples erected to his glory. Throughout the known world, he was to be worshiped like God. One day this conceited man said to himself, “I would like to know how many subjects are living in my empire.” He then issued an edict to take a census of all his subjects.
Everyone had to go to be registered in his place of origin. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but their family’s place of origin was Bethlehem. Without hesitation, obedient to the command of a petty mortal who was imbued with his power and pretended to be a god, Joseph and Mary set out on their journey. The whole world was on the move so that the prophecy announcing the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem might be fulfilled. Through the grievous sin of pride of an earthly potentate, God had directed everything to His end.
Let me open a parenthesis here. My brothers and sisters, dear friends, you see the world in turmoil still today. In general, God is not first served on earth. Decisions are dictated by all sorts of material interests, great personages want to be in the limelight, and everyone forgets God. Men who think they are intelligent comment on every situation, scrutinize everything, censor everything.
I would like to draw your attention to the conduct of Joseph and Mary. They were of superior intelligence, to say the least. Their mission surpassed all other vocations. Mary was going to be the Mother of God. Joseph, Her spouse, was chosen to represent God the Father with His Divine Son. Invested with such missions – the two greatest missions ever entrusted to human beings – not for a moment did they think that they were not bound to obey this decree of civil authority. Joseph and Mary recognized in this command a will of God, and they carried it out without comment. Most assuredly, even in their hearts, they did not evaluate Caesar’s prideful conduct, they did not criticize it. That is one of the lessons of this night.
So Joseph and Mary set out for Bethlehem in painful and humiliating conditions. One can easily imagine the disparaging comments made about Joseph traveling with his young wife who was about to give birth. Joseph found comfort by promising himself a warm welcome in Bethlehem from relatives and friends. They would have a little place for them, and especially for the unborn Child. But things did not go as Joseph expected.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph knocked on the doors of their friends and relatives, then the inns and all over Bethlehem. No one wanted to receive them, no one. They encountered the hardness of man’s heart, his wickedness, his egoism. In this painful suffering, this deep humiliation, we can contemplate their docility to the conduct of Providence. They experienced great sorrow, deep disappointment, extreme embarrassment. But in their hearts there was no bitterness. In the harshness of the people of Bethlehem, they continued to recognize a disposition of Providence. And it is precisely by way of Caesar’s proud edict and the inhospitality of the people that Providence led Joseph and Mary to the exact place where He wanted them: the grotto of Bethlehem. Providence led them there by way of extremely disconcerting circumstances. And it is here that Mary and Joseph give us an important lesson of docility to Providence. Attentive to God, they fulfilled His will perfectly.
The Gospel tells us, There was no room for them.5 Jesus, the Son of God, became incarnate; but when He arrived that Christmas night, there was no room for Him, no room. Time was running out, the Virgin Mother was about to give birth. Joseph and Mary went out of the town and into the countryside, where they found a grotto that served as a refuge for animals. When animals leave a shelter, they do not sweep up after themselves! It is not very fragrant! Joseph and Mary cleaned the grotto hastily. They put some straw, the freshest they could find, into the manger of that squalid grotto. It is very moving to consider a child being born in such pathetic conditions.
When the time came, Mary and Joseph began to pray. People were distracted, but the Son of God would be well received, because Mary and Joseph awaited Him in prayer. Once little Jesus arrived, Joseph and Mary became oblivious to the grotto. There was no more bad odor, no more dark, dank environment. The Son of God had come, and at once this Child completely charmed Mary and Joseph. Tonight, my sisters and brothers, be Mary and Joseph. Fulfill your role well. Receive the Child Jesus well.
Close to the grotto of Bethlehem were some shepherds watching over their flocks. Theirs was not an easy occupation. They lived at the mercy of the elements, sleeping under the stars or in little makeshift shelters. They were poor and simple, little people from among the littlest ones in Judea. We do not even know their names. God revealed to them the secret unknown to all: the coming of the long-awaited Redeemer into this world. “A Saviour is born to you, who is Christ the Lord!” Surely these shepherds had often talked among themselves about the coming Messiah. With humility they had prayed: “O Lord Jehovah, send the Messiah whom You proclaim to us. It is time, according to prophecy, according to the Holy Scriptures. He must come soon. Send Him, have mercy on Your people.”
On that Christmas night, a host of Angels sent by God from Heaven manifested itself to those poor shepherds, those little ones who are nothing according to the world. The Angels sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.6 The shepherds were upright in their hearts, they had good will in the sight of God. Those simple souls, those humble men did not doubt, and they went immediately to the grotto as the Angels indicated to them. They recognized the signs of God: You will find an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. At the sight of the Child God, they fell to their knees to adore Him. They were the first!
Meanwhile, further to the East, there were some Magi who were scholars and kings. Although these men were pagans and did not yet have the true Faith, they were upright men, and they did what they knew in their hearts to be right. They were attentive and faithful to the desires of God. And when a new star appeared in the heavens, they immediately recognized it as a divine action. They understood that God was manifesting Himself to them. Then, from the East, these men crossed immense lands to follow that star all the way to Judea.
When they reached Jerusalem, the star disappeared. The Magi said, “We have finally reached our destination!” Certain that the entire population of the city was aware of the great event, they asked, “Where is this Messiah who has just been born?” The Gospel tells us, King Herod was troubled, and all the city of Jerusalem with him.7 Herod, the wicked king, was informed of the coming of the Messiah by the Magi. The evil-intentioned king said to the Magi, “Go on to Bethlehem, and when you have found the Child, inform me of it, and I will go and worship Him.” When they left the palace, the Magi saw the star again, and it led them to Bethlehem. They discovered the Child, worshiped Him, and were warned in a dream to return home by another way. When Herod found out, he flew into a rage; so furious was he that he wanted to kill the Child.
Herod was an Israelite also, like the shepherds. His pride and hunger for power had led him into idolatry. On his estate he had built a temple to Caesar, to whom he rendered worship. He had led many of his countrymen into idolatry. He was so hardened in his infidelity to the God of Israel that instead of recognizing the Incarnation and the coming of the Word of God, he conceived the plan to kill Him. He was already an evil man, but when he learned of God’s action, his cruelty knew no bounds. Wanting to eliminate this newborn Messiah King, he commanded the massacre of a multitude of innocent little children. His plan to kill the Child God failed, but in his heart, he committed that crime. Herod – oh, how sad it is! – was lost by his infidelities, his ambition, his pride. It is incredible how far infidelity can take man. What a warning!
As for the Magi, they were pagans. But because they were faithful to God, progressing from one fidelity to another, they arrived all the way to the cradle of the Child God. They were able to contemplate God Incarnate, and they worshiped Him. Today there are many people who, like the Magi, may not have the true Faith. They were born into other faiths; they do not know the truth. Among these there are certainly some upright souls. Let us pray for God to manifest Himself to their hearts. If Jesus manifests Himself to you, nothing can stop you. You will follow Him no matter where He leads you.
The Angels sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. One may ask: Why glory to God? God reigns in Heaven and a little child has just been born in a grotto. How does God draw His glory from this scenario? God is glorified in the highest Heaven when people on earth have good will. Good will is a will that conforms to God’s will. The Angels invite all of us to do this. As long as we have a little good will, God shows us the way to Heaven, and thus all of God’s glory is restored. The glory of God is that man unites himself to Him. It is His most ardent desire, it is our greatest interest!
Earlier we said that men had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah for over four thousand years. During Advent and on this night, I asked myself the question: Who is it that waited the most? We human beings, or our God who created man with infinite love and saw His child violently tear himself away from Him by his sin? Who suffered? Man suffered, but God suffered far more! Is it not true that the more we love, the more we are capable of suffering? When we love, we suffer from the absence of those we love. Who loves more, God or man? You know the answer. God loves man with an infinite love. When man separated himself from God, he caused Him a horrendous wrenching. On this night the glory of God is repaired, hope is reborn after four thousand years of waiting! God waited a long time; He was patient, He suffered.
God has great designs for the present times. We must enter into His plans without analyzing everything, without criticizing everything, without falling into weariness. My brothers and sisters, let us not grow weary in our good will. Let us not be like the human race, which had become tired of waiting for the Messiah. Joseph and Mary were almost the only ones who still awaited the Redeemer. They were not tired of obeying God, even in all kinds of suffering. Seeing the conduct of Providence in all things, they were always abandoned to His good will. And the Redemption – that immense plan of God – was fulfilled as God wanted it to be.
On this Christmas night, may you understand this. Do you want God’s purpose to be fulfilled in you? Obey God. May your heart, your entire being want what God wants. Be surrendered to God’s guidance in an absolute manner, without conditions, without comments, without murmuring, neither with the lips nor with the heart. Examine your heart often to see if it is docile to God, especially when circumstances are annoying, contradictory. And God’s plan will be fulfilled. God has a great plan, you may believe it, a plan such as the world has not seen for a long time. Almost everyone can see that at this time, things are not going well on earth. When Jesus came, the world was pagan, idolatrous. Even the Jews had let themselves be perverted. God was practically no longer loved by humanity. Doesn’t that sound like what is happening today? There are so few who love God, who really love Him, for whom Jesus is everything.
We urge your hearts to contemplate this little One. At His birth, this little Child gives us His full attention. What is the reason for this scene in the grotto at Bethlehem? God wants to charm us, show us His love. The Son of God leaves His Heaven to show that He is attentive to each one of us. Look at the Infant Jesus holding out His arms to us! See His Mother presenting Him to you and hear Him saying to you: “My child, you are everything to Me. I came down from My Heaven for you. For you I came in poverty, in the night, in silence, unknown to all men, unrecognized by all. I came for you, My child, to tell you how much I love you and to invite you to follow Me.”
Let each of us accept! Who can resist this little Child? Contemplate Him. Let yourself be charmed, let Him win you over. Do not hesitate to ask Him to charm your heart, to manifest Himself to your soul. Let Him win you over so that you will want to follow Him in all His ways. Hear Him! And if things are going so badly on earth, it is because we do not hear Him.
My brothers and sisters, dear friends, following these few comments you can understand what this little Jesus expects of us. Soon He will tell us: I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.8 After all that God has done for man, how can we do too much in order to go to Him? What are we waiting for to fulfill His expectations?
Let us pray for one another, let us ask for the grace that this little Jesus may charm and enchant us, that He may win our hearts so that we will follow Him absolutely. Once we are charmed, once we truly love, nothing will stop us. Let us all make a plea together, so that our brothers and sisters on earth may enter into this attentiveness to God’s good wishes. On Christmas night, Jesus is very attentive to our prayers, especially when these prayers ask for things that He Himself wants to do in us. We are going to offer this Holy Christmas Mass to ask the Child Jesus to manifest Himself to your souls, to make you fall in love with Him.
We bless all of you, my dear brothers and sisters, you, dear friends, you, our missionaries who are far away. Several are alone on this Christmas night. We bless them especially. We bless our cenacle homes, souls who spend many hours every day at the foot of Jesus Host. We bless all souls of good will throughout the world, who, according to the lights they have received, want to please God. And we ask Jesus to transform the hearts of those who do not love Him, so that they too may have good will.
May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon you through Mary, Mother of God. Amen.
1. Traditional French hymn: “Il est né le divin Enfant – He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child.”
2. St. Matthew 15:8-9; St. Mark 7:6-7.
3. St. John 1:11.
4. St. Luke 2:1.
5. St. Luke 2:7.
6. St. Luke 2:14.
7. St. Matthew 2:3.
8. Cf. St. John 14:6.