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Audience: The greatest Christmas gift of all


(Vatican Radio) Following Christ’s example, we have to learn to give ourselves completely. Anything else is not enough. This was Pope Benedict XVI’s tweet sent out to his followers Wednesday summarizing the general audience.

“In the Child of Bethlehem, God gives us the greatest gift possible, the gift of himself” and today we need to rediscover the “wonder” and “all-enveloping magnitude of this event”, because through the Incarnation God has revealed mankind’s “sublime dignity”. Emer McCarthy reports Listen: RealAudioMP3

Below please find a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s audience text.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in this Christmas season we focus once again on the great mystery of God who came down from Heaven to take on our flesh. In Jesus, God became incarnate, He became man like us, and in doing so opened the door to heaven to us, to full communion with Him.

In these days, the word "incarnation" of God rang out several times in our churches, to express the reality we celebrate at Christmas: The Son of God became man, as we say in the Creed. What does this word, central to the Christian faith, mean? It is derived from the Latin "incarnatio." St. Ignatius of Antioch, and especially Saint Irenaeus have used this term reflecting on the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John, in particular on the expression "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). Here the word "flesh", according to Hebrew tradition, refers to the person as a whole, under the aspect of his transience and temporality, his poverty and contingency. This is to say that the salvation wrought by God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth touches man in his concrete reality and in every situation. God took on the human condition to heal it of all that separates us from Him, so that we can call Him, in his only begotten Son, by the name of "Abba, Father" and truly be his children. St. Irenaeus says, "This is why the Word became man, and the Son of God, Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God "(Adversus haereses, 3,19,1: PG 7.939; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460).

"The Word became flesh" is one of those truths we have become so used to that the greatness of the vent it expresses hardly affects us any more. And indeed, in this Christmas season, in which the expression returns often in the liturgy, at times we are more concerned with outward appearances, the "colours" of the festivity, than what is at the heart of the great novelty that Christians celebrate, something absolutely unthinkable, that only God could operate and we can only enter with faith. The Logos which is with God, the Logos who is God (cf. Jn 1:1), through which they were created all things were created (cf. 1.3), which accompanied mankind with his light throughout history (cf. 1 0.4 to 5, 1.9), became flesh and made his dwelling place among us, became one of us (cf. 1:14). The Second Vatican Council says: "The Son of God ... worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin"(Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is important therefore, that we recover our wonder before this mystery, allow ourselves to be enveloped by the magnitude of this event: God walked our streets as man, he entered into the time of man, to communicate His life to us (cf. 1 Jn 1:1 - 4). And He did this not with the splendour of a sovereign, who subjugates the world with his power, but with the humility of a child.

A second element should also be underlined. At Christmas we usually exchange gifts with the people closest to us. Sometimes it may be an act done out of convention, but it generally expresses affection; it is a sign of love and esteem. In the prayer over the gifts at Christmas Mass we prayed: "Accept, O Lord, our offering in this night of light, and for this mysterious exchange of gifts transform us in Christ, your Son, who raised man next to you in glory". The idea of giving is at the heart of the liturgy and brings to our consciousness the original gift of Christmas: on that Holy night God, becoming flesh, wanted to become a gift for men, He gave a little of himself to us, took on our humanity to gift us His divinity. This is the great gift. Even in our giving is not important whether a gift is expensive or not; those who cannot afford to give a little of themselves, always give too little, indeed, sometimes they try to replace the heart and the meaning of giving with money or material things. The mystery of the Incarnation shows us that God did not do this: He did not give something; He gave himself in His only-begotten Son. Here we find the model for our giving, so that our relationships, especially the most important ones, are driven by generosity and love.

I would like to offer a third reflection: the fact of the Incarnation, of God becoming a man like us, shows us the unprecedented realism of Divine love. The action of God, in fact, is not limited to words, indeed we might say that he is not content to speak, but is immersed in our history and takes on fatigue and weight of human life. The Son of God became truly man, born of the Virgin Mary, in a specific time and place in Bethlehem during the reign of Augustus, under Governor Quirinius (Lk 2:1-2), he grew up in a family, had friends, he formed a group of disciples, he instructed the apostles to continue his mission, he completed the course of his earthly life on the Cross. This mode of action of God is a powerful stimulus to question the realism of our faith, which should not be limited to the sphere of feelings and emotions, but must enter into concrete existence, that is to touch our lives every day and direct them in a practical way. God did not stop at words, but He showed us how to live, sharing our own experience, except sin. The Catechism of St. Pius X, which some of us have studied as children, with its simplicity, to the question: "What should we do to live according to God?", gives this answer: "To live according to God we must believe the truth revealed by Him and keep His commandments with the help of His grace, which is obtained through the sacraments and prayer. " Faith has a fundamental aspect which affects not only the mind and the heart, but all of our lives.

A final element I propose for your consideration. St. John states that the Word, the Logos was with God from the beginning, and that all things were made through the Word, and nothing that exists was made without Him (cf. Jn 1:1-3). The Evangelist clearly alludes to the story of creation that is in the early chapters of Genesis, and read them in the light of Christ. This is a fundamental criterion in Christian reading of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments should always be read together and by beginning with the New the deepest sense also of the Old is disclosed. That same Word that has always existed with God, which is God Himself and by which and in view of which all things were created (cf. Col 1:16-17), became man: the eternal and infinite God immersed himself in human finitude, His creature, to bring man and the whole of creation to Him The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: " The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendour of which surpasses that of the first creation "(n. 349). The Fathers of the Church have likened Jesus to Adam, to the point of calling him the "second Adam" or the definitive Adam, the perfect image of God. With his incarnation the Son of God is a new creation, which gives the complete answer to the question "Who is man?". Only in Jesus is God's plan on the human being fully revealed: He is the definitive man according to God. The Second Vatican Council strongly reiterates: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear... Christ, the final Adam, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. "(Gaudium et Spes, 22; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 359). In this child, the Son of God contemplated at Christmas, we can recognize the true face of the human being, and only by opening action of his grace and trying every day to follow Him, do we realize God's plan for us.

Dear friends, in this period we meditate on the great and wonderful richness of the mystery of the Incarnation, to allow the Lord to enlighten us and transform us more and more to the image of his Son made man for us.

* * * * * I greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Nigeria, Taiwan and Brazil. My cordial greeting goes to the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians from the United States. I also thank the choirs, including those from Saint Joseph University and from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace!