VATICAN CITY, 23 DEC 2009 (VIS) - In his general audience, celebrated this morning in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope focused his remarks on the subject of Christmas.
At the beginning of his catechesis the Holy Father explained that "the Church's liturgical year did not initially develop on the basis of Christ's birth but on that of faith in His resurrection. Hence, the most ancient feast of Christianity is not Christmas but Easter. The resurrection of Christ is what founded the Christian faith, underpinned the announcement of the Gospel and brought the Church into being".
"The first person to make the clear affirmation that Jesus was born on 25 December was Hippolytus of Rome in his commentary on the Book of Daniel, written around the year 204", said the Pope.
"In the Christian world, the feast of Christmas assumed a distinct form in the fourth century when it took the place of the Roman feast of the 'Sol invictus', the sun unconquered. This highlighted the fact that the birth of Christ is the victory of the true light over the darkness of evil and sin. Yet the particular and intense spiritual atmosphere that now surrounds Christmas developed during the Middle Ages, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi who was profoundly enamoured of Jesus the man, of the God-with-us".
"This particular devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation was the origin of the famous Christmas celebration in Greccio. ... St. Francis with his nativity scene highlighted the defenceless love, humility and goodness of God, Who in the Incarnation of the Word shows Himself to mankind in order to teach them a new way to live and love".
The Pope then went on to recall the fact that the first biographer of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano, recounted how, "on that Christmas night, Francis was granted the grace of a marvellous vision. He saw, lying immobile in the manger, a small child Who was reawakened from sleep by the proximity of Francis himself".
"Thanks to St. Francis, Christian people are able to understand that at Christmas God truly became the 'Emmanuel', the God-with-us, from Whom no barrier or distance separates us. In that Child, God became so close to each of us ... that we can establish an intimate rapport of profound affection with Him, just as we do with a newborn child.
"In that Child", the Holy Father added, "God-Love becomes manifest: God comes unarmed and powerless, because He does not intend to conquer, so to say, from the outside; rather, He intends to be accepted by man in freedom. God becomes a defenceless child to overcome man's pride, violence and thirst for possession. In Jesus, God assumed this poor and disarming condition in order to triumph over us with love and lead us to our true identity".
"His being a Child likewise indicates to us that we can meet God and enjoy His presence", the Pope concluded. "People who have not understood the mystery of Christmas have not understood the decisive element of Christian existence: that those who do not accept Jesus with the heart of a child cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. This is what St. Francis wished to tell the Christian world of his time and of all times, even unto today".
AG/CHRISTMAS/... VIS 20091223 (560)