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Christmas - Natale - Navidad - Noël 1996

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily at Midnight Mass
- in English & Italian

1. “In the depths of the night a voice resounds” (Polish Christmas carol). In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9, 1). The light shone because “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Is 9, 5).

The same Christmas carol identifies that voice in the night: “Come, shepherds, God is born for you; hasten to Bethlehem to greet the Lord”. It is the same voice which resounds in the passage of the Gospel of Luke just proclaimed: “In that region there were shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. The angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’” (Lk 2, 8-12).

The Christmas carol continues: “[The shepherds] set off, and in the manger they found the Child with all the signs which had foretold his birth. They adored him as God...”.

2. What St Luke wrote in the Gospel about the birth of the Lord Jesus has been translated into countless songs and works of literature; these make up the rich tradition inspired by Christmas. We bring this tradition with us when we come to Midnight Mass, also called the “Mass of the Shepherds”. At this hour, Bishops and priests throughout the world join me, the Bishop of Rome, in celebrating this Mass.

In every place liturgical and extra-liturgical songs are proclaiming the joy of the Lord’s birth. The angel says: Be not afraid, rejoice! The birth of a human being is always a source of great rejoicing (cf Jn 16, 21). What great joy then must the birth of the God-Man bring! Isaiah says: “They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest” (Is 9, 2). A remarkable harvest! Behold, humanity is ripe for this moment when the Creator is born “of woman”. Man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf Gen 1, 27), grows and journeys towards this God-Man, in whom he receives the gift of his own fulfilment and in whom, at the same time, all creation is raised to its fullness.

The responsorial psalm of this liturgy proclaims: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day” (Ps 96, 1-2). And a Christmas carol echoes: “Let all creation sing to its Lord”. This invitation to praise resounds with particular eloquence. Behold: all creation, which the Apostle Paul will describe as “waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8, 19), becomes a witness of the revelation of the Son of God in human flesh. At the same time, this is the beginning and the foundation of the revelation of those who have become sons and daughters of God by reason of the divine adoption to which all people are called.

What profound reasons for joy the Lord’s birth gives us!

3. St Paul also speaks of these reasons in the Second Reading: “The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men” (Ti 2, 11). The Son of God does not come into the world empty-handed. It is true that in the stable at Bethlehem he receives the gifts of the shepherds, but first he himself brings great gifts. His generosity is indescribable: “The loving Father offers us today ineffable gifts from heaven, as the Eternal Word becomes flesh, by his wondrous power” (Christmas carol).

Precisely that priceless gift which the Apostle calls “grace” — the gift of a share in the life of God, a universal gift, the opening of the path of eternal salvation — is the most profound source of Christmas joy.

With this joy in our hearts, we celebrate the solemn and beautiful night liturgy. We wish to join the choirs of angels who over the stable of Bethlehem are glorifying the Lord: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2, 14). We pray today for everyone, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers alike. For we want to be faithful to the gift brought by God on Christmas night: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, made manifest for all humanity.

From this Basilica of St Peter’s, I send everyone a cordial greeting and I pray that this source of joy issuing forth in human history with the birth of the Son of God will be plentiful for all, so that each person may draw from it and quench his thirst. Yes, the fountain of salvation which God desires to offer to each human being has now been opened. It was for this very reason that he drew near to us and in his Son became like us: true God and true Man.

“God is born, man’s might is amazed. The Lord of heaven empties himself! The fire subsides, the splendour is veiled, the Infinite is encompassed” (F. Karpiñski, Christmas Song). On this night the frontiers of human existence are extended. The Son of God, taking upon himself man’s limitations, opens before our eyes the prospect of God’s infinity.

“Natus est hodie Salvator mundi”.
Today is born the Saviour of the world.
Come, let us adore him!"

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's Urbi et Orbi Message on Christmas Day
St Peter's Square, 25 December 1996 - in English & Italian

"1. "All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God” (Ps 98:3).

Today, day of joy,
resonates for the people of Rome and for the whole world 
hear the joyful proclamation of the birth of the Son of God:
Christmas is a mystery of grace to contemplate;
Christmas is a marvellous event to be shared.
The source of today’s happiness
is described, in tones of wonder,
by a Polish Christmas carol:
“God is born, man’s might is amazed:
the Lord of Heaven empties himself!
The fire subsides, the splendour is veiled,
the Infinite is encompassed.
Scorned, yet clothed with glory,
the mortal King of the ages!
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (F. Karpiñski, 18th century).

2. The Poet recalls
the Prologue of the Gospel of John,
which presents as a mystery
what Matthew and Luke
describe as an event.
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God...
In him was life,
and the life was the light of men;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1, 1-5).
The light shone in the night over the stable of Bethlehem;
it shone before the eyes of men,
revealing to all that the Word of God
had come into the world.

3. But the Evangelist tells us:
“The world was made through him,
yet the world knew him not” (Jn 1, 10).
Only the shepherds of Bethlehem recognized him
who, poor but watchful, hastened to follow the light
that showed them the place where the Son of Mary had been born.
They were the first to receive the Word:
and the Word gave them “power
to become children of God” (Jn 1, 12).

4. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes:
“In many and various ways
God spoke of old to our fathers
by the prophets;
but in these last days
he has spoken to us by a Son,
whom he appointed the heir of all things,
through whom also
he created the world” (Heb 1, 1-2).
The Son, who reflects the glory of the Father
and bears the very stamp of his nature,
upholds all things by his word of power (cf Heb 1, 3).
It was He who created the cosmos:
in Him it exists and by Him is preserved in existence.
Yes, the Incarnation of the Son of God
constitutes as it were the crowning of creation.
For this reason another Polish Christmas carol
recalls that “on Christmas day all creation rejoices”,
because in the newborn Son of the Virgin,
creation recognizes its Creator and Lord.

5. L
et us join together,
Brothers and sisters of the entire world,
in this song of joy,
as everywhere there resound, in different tongues,
the traditional melodies of Christmas.
Let them resound with joy in churches and cathedrals,
where Christians gather about the crib.
and welcome the Son of God.
May these melodies bring peace and serenity especially to those places where,
as in Bosnia-Hercegovina or Guatemala,
after long years of war at home and abroad,
weapons have at last fallen silent and men
tread anew the path of understanding and fraternity.

6. But the echo of the songs of Christmas
must travel much farther!
It must resound beyond walls
where the clash of arms is still heard,
shattering the spell of peace brought by this holy day.
I am thinking of Bethlehem and all the Holy Land,
where Jesus was born and lived:
the land which he loved,
the land where hope must not die,
despite provocations and profound differences.
I am thinking of Cyprus, still divided,
and Algeria, in the throes of unjustifiable violence.
On this festive day I also look to the East,
to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka,
where fratricidal struggles and conflicts of identity continue,
spawning desolation and death.

7. And how can we forget Africa?
At its very heart,
in the region of the Great Lakes,
this young continent is experiencing,
amid the general indifference of the international community,
one of the cruelest human tragedies of its history.
Thousands and thousands of people
— they are our brothers and sisters —
wander, displaced, victims of fear, hunger and disease; t
hey, alas, will not be able to feel the joy of Christmas.
No one can remain indifferent before this scandal,
which words and pictures
can only faintly
begin to describe.

8. To resign ourselves to such violence and injustice
would be too grave a rejection
of the joy and hope which Christmas brings.
God becomes man and tells us once again that it is possible to conquer hatred,
that it is beautiful to love one another as brothers and sisters.
O Divine Child,
by your gentle presence encourage
men and women to overcome hatred and rancour,
help them to return to dialogue
and to walk together along the path of life.
Voicing the silent longing
of all mankind,
the Polish poet also says:
“Raise your hand, Divine Child!
Bless our dear country
with good counsel and well-being.
Sustain her strength by your own.
Bless our home, our fields,
and every town and city.
This is my wish for every country in the world.
And the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us”.

9. Today’s Christmas Liturgy tells us once again
“A holy day has dawned for us;
come, let us adore the Lord” (Gospel verse).
We come to you, Word of God,
to receive of your wisdom;
we come to you, Christ, Son of God,
to beg your graces and blessings. Y
ou, Child of Bethlehem,
Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary,
are our Redeemer,
who saves each human being with the gift of your life.
Grant that peace may flourish wherever your name is spoken.
Raise your hand, Divine Child,
and bless the earth which has seen your salvation:
out of love, you have come to dwell among us.

St JPII - St Peter's Square, the Vatican, Christmas Day, 25th December 1996