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Christmas - Natale - Navidad - Noël 1997

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily at Midnight Mass
St Peter's Basilica - in English, French, GermanItalian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy... for to you is born this day... a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2, 10-11).

Today! This "today" which resounds in the liturgy does not refer only to the event which took place 2000 years ago and which changed the history of the world. It also refers to this Holy Night in which we are gathered here, in Saint Peter's Basilica, in spiritual communion with all those throughout the world who are celebrating the Solemnity of Christmas. Even in the farthest reaches of the five continents there resound tonight the angelic words heard by the shepherds of Bethlehem: "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy...  for to you is born this day... a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2, 10-11).

Jesus was born in a stable, as the Gospel of Luke recounts, "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2, 7). Mary, his Mother, and Joseph had not found a welcome in any house in Bethlehem. Mary had to lay the Saviour of the world in a manger, the only cradle available for the Son of God made man. This is the reality of the Lord's Nativity. Every year we return to it: thus we rediscover it, thus we experience it every time with unchanged wonder.

2. The birth of the Messiah! It is the central event in the history of humanity. The whole human race was awaiting it with a vague presentiment; the Chosen People awaited with explicit awareness.

A privileged witness of this expectation, throughout the entire liturgical season of Advent and also at this solemn vigil, is the Prophet Isaiah who, from the distant centuries directs his inspired gaze to this single, future night at Bethlehem. Although he lived many centuries earlier, he speaks of this event and its mystery as if he were an eyewitness of it: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given" - "Puer natus est nobis, Filius datus est nobis" (Is 9, 6).

Such is the historical event imbued with mystery: a tender child is born, fully human but at the same time the only-begotten Son of the Father. He is the Son, not made but eternally begotten, the Son of one being with the Father. "God from God, light from light, true God from true God". He is the Word, "through whom all things were made".

We shall soon proclaim these truths in the Creed and add: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man". Professing our faith together with the whole Church, this night too we shall acknowledge the amazing grace which the Lord's mercy bestows on us.

Israel, the People of God of the Old Covenant, was chosen to bring to the world, as a "shoot from the stump of David", the Messiah, the Saviour and Redeemer of all humanity. Together with an outstanding representative of that People, the Prophet Isaiah, let us therefore turn to Bethlehem with our eyes lifted in expectation of the Messiah. In the divine light we can glimpse how the Old Covenant is being fulfilled and how, with Christ's birth, a New and Eternal Covenant is being revealed.

3. St Paul speaks of this New Covenant in the Letter to Titus which we have just heard: "The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men" (Tit 2, 11). Precisely this grace enables humanity to live "awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ", who "gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Tit 2, 14).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, this message of grace is today addressed to us! Listen, then! To all "whom God loves", to all who accept the invitation to pray and keep vigil on this Holy Christmas Night, I repeat with joy: God's love for us has been revealed! His love is grace and faithfulness, mercy and truth! By setting us free from the darkness of sin and death, he has become the firm and unshakeable foundation of the hope of every human being.

The liturgical song repeats this with joyful insistence: Come, let us adore him! Come from every part of the world to contemplate what has taken place in the grotto ion.

4. How unsearchably deep is the mystery of the Incarnation! Abundantly rich, in turn, is the Christmas Liturgy: in the Masses of Midnight, Dawn and Christmas Day, various liturgical texts cast successive rays of light on this great event which the Lord wants to make known to all who await him and seek him.

In the mystery of Christmas is fully reflected the truth of his plan of salvation for man and for the world. It is not only man who is to be saved, but all creation is invited to sing to the Lord a new song, to rejoice and to exult together with all the nations of the earth.

It was this very song of praise which resounded with solemn magnificence over the poor stable at Bethlehem. We read in St Luke that the heavenly host praised God saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2, 14).

In God is the fullness of glory. On this night the glory of God becomes the inheritance of all creation and, in particular, of mankind. Yes, the Eternal Son, the eternal object of the Father's pleasure, became man, and his earthly birth on Christmas night testifies once and for all that in him every man is included in the mystery of God's love, which is the source of definitive peace.

"Peace among men with whom he is pleased". Yes, peace to humanity! This is my Christmas wish. Dear Brothers and Sisters, during this night and throughout the Christmas Octave, let us implore from the Lord this much needed grace. Let us pray that all humanity will come to know in the Son of Mary, born in Bethlehem, the Redeemer of the world who brings us the gift of love and peace. Amen!"

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's Urbi et Orbi Message on Christmas Day
St Peter's Square, 25 December 1997 - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "The earth has seen its Saviour".
Today, Christmas Day, we live to the full
the truth of these words: the earth has seen its Saviour.
The first to see him were the shepherds of Bethlehem
who, at the words of the angels,
hastened with joy to the poor cave.
It was night, a night charged with mystery.
What did they see before them?
A Child placed in a manger
and at his side, lovingly, Mary and Joseph.
They saw a child but, enlightened by faith,
in this fragile creature they recognized God made man
and they offered him their poor gifts.
Thus they began, without realizing it,
that hymn of praise to Emmanuel, God come to dwell amongst us,
which would resound
from generation to generation.
The joyous canticle, the heritage of all
who today journey in spirit to Bethlehem,
to celebrate the birth of the Lord,
and praise God for his marvellous works.
We too unite ourselves in faith to them
in this unique encounter of praise
which is traditionally renewed every year at Christmas,
here in St Peter's Square, and which concludes with the blessing
which the Bishop of Rome imparts Urbi et Orbi:

Urbi: to this City which, thanks to the ministry
of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
has "seen" in a unique way
the Saviour of the world.

Et Orbi: to the whole world
in which the Good News of salvation
has spread far and wide,
to the very ends of the earth.
The joy of Christmas has thus become
the heritage of countless peoples and nations.
In truth, "all the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God" (Ps 97 [98], 3).

2. To all, therefore, is addressed the message of today's solemnity.
All are called to share
in the joy of Christmas.
"Acclaim the Lord all the earth
cry out and exult with songs of joy" (Ps 97 [98], 4).
Christmas is a day of extraordinary gladness!
This gladness has penetrated people's hearts
and has been expressed in many different ways
in the history and culture of Christian nations.
It has found an echo in liturgical and popular song,
in painting, literature and every field of art.
For the Christian formation of whole generations
such traditions and songs,
sacred plays and, above all, the crib
are of great importance.
The canticle of the angels at Bethlehem
has thus found a universal and varied echo
in the customs, attitudes, cultures of every age.
It has found an echo in the heart of every believer.

3. Today, a day of joy for all,
a day filled with so many calls for peace and brotherhood,
more intense and sharp become the imploring cries
of peoples who long for freedom and harmony,
in situations of disturbing ethnic and political violence.
Today there resound more strongly the voices
of those who give themselves generously
to breaking down barriers of fear and aggression,
promoting understanding between peoples
of different origins, colour and religious creeds.
Today there appear more tragic to us
the sufferings of peoples fleeing
to the mountains of their own land
or seeking a safe haven on the coasts of neighbouring countries,
in order to pursue the faint hope of a less precarious and more secure existence.
More distressing today is the tense silence
of the ever growing multitude of the new poor:
men and women without work and without shelter,
infants and children injured and violated,
adolescents enlisted in the wars of adults,
young victims of drugs
or attracted by deceptive myths.
Today is Christmas Day, a day of confidence for peoples long divided
who have finally come back to meet one another and talk.
These are often timid and fragile prospects,
slow and tiring dialogues,
but animated by the hope
of eventually reaching agreements
which respect the rights and duties of all.

4. It is Christmas! This straying humanity of ours
journeying towards the Third Millennium,
awaits You, O Child of Bethlehem,
who come to manifest the love of the Father.
You, the King of Peace, invite us today to fear not,
and you open our hearts to prospects of hope.
For this reason "let us sing to the Lord a new song
for he has worked wonders" (cf Ps 97 [98], 1).
Behold the greatest wonder worked by God:
He himself became man, he was born on Christmas night
he offered his life for us on the Cross,
he rose on the third day according to the Scriptures
and through the Eucharist he remains with us
to the end of time.
In truth "... the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us" (Jn 1, 14).
The light of faith enables us to recognize
in the new-born Child
the eternal and immortal God.
Of his glory we become witnesses.
Almighty though he was
he clothed himself in extreme poverty.
This is our faith, the faith of the Church,
which enables us to confess the glory of the only-begotten Son of God,
even if our eyes only see the man,
a Child born in the stable at Bethlehem.

God made man lies here today in the manger
and silently the universe contemplates him.
May humanity recognize him as its Saviour!

St JPII - St Peter's Square, the Vatican, Christmas Day, 25th December 1997