Vatican City, 18 December 2013 (VIS) – Pope Francis dedicated the final general audience of 2013 to the birth of Jesus, “celebration of trust and hope, which overcome uncertainty and pessimism”. “And the reason for our hope is this: God is with us, and still trusts in us! … He comes to live with mankind, he chooses to dwell on earth in order to stay with man, and to be found there where man passes his days in joy or in pain. Therefore, earth is no longer merely a 'vale of tears' but rather the place where God Himself has pitched His tent, it is the meeting place of God and mankind, of God's solidarity with humanity”.
But in sharing in our human condition, there is something even more surprising. “God's presence among mankind did not take place in an ideal, idyllic world, but rather in this real world, characterised by good and bad things, marked by divisions, evil, poverty, abuse of power, and wars. He chose to take part in our history as it is, with all the weight of its limits and its dramas. … He is God-with-us … Jesus has always been God-with-us, and is always with us in all the suffering and pain of history. The birth of Jesus is the demonstration that God placed Himself once and for all on the side of mankind, to save us, to lift us up from the dust of our misery, of our difficulties, and of our sins”.
The great “gift” of Bethlehem is, therefore, “the spiritual energy that helps us not to collapse under the weight of our labours, our desperation, our sorrows. … The birth of Jesus brings us the good news that God loves us immensely and individually”. Two considerations may be drawn from the joyful contemplation of the mystery of the Son of God, born for us.
The first is that in His Nativity God shows Himself to be not as one who remains on high and dominates the universe, but rather He Who bows down, Who descends to our small and poor earth … if we want to be like Him we must not place ourselves above others, but instead lower ourselves, place ourselves in service, be small with the small and poor with the poor. It is sad to see a Christian who does not want to bow down, who does not want to serve. A Christian who parades around is not Christian – this is pagan! … Let us ensure that our brothers and sisters never feel alone”.
The second consequence is that God, through Jesus, became involved with mankind to the point of becoming one of us, which means that whatever we would do to our brother or our sister, we would do to Him. Jesus Himself reminds us of this: whoever nourishes, welcomes, visits or loves one of the smallest and poorest among man, does so also to the Son of God.
As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, now approaching, the Pope encouraged us to pray to Mary “to help us … recognise in the face of our neighbour, especially in the weakest and most marginalised, the image of the Son of God made man”.
As indicated above, this was the final general audience of 2013, as it is the last Wednesday before Christmas. Since his election to the pontificate, Pope Francis has celebrated 30 general audiences for which the Prefecture of the Papal Household has distributed 1,548,500 entry tickets, although there have been at times more than one hundred thousand attendees and the crowds have often exceeded the capacity of the Square. On these occasions, maxi-screens have been installed in the adjacent Piazza Pio XII, and Via della Conciliazione has been transformed into a pedestrian zone.