The Kindness of God has Appeared

St. Francis and the
Mystery of Christmas

Excerpts from a Christmas Midnight Mass Homily of
Pope Benedict XVI

December 24, 2011


Christmas is an epiphany - the appearing of God and of His great light in a Child that is born for us. In 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. St. Francis called Christmas the feast of feasts, and he celebrated it with unutterable devotion. He kissed images of the Christ Child with great devotion and stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us.

Through the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus' humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God's Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. For God's Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. In the Child born in the stable of Bethlehem, we can, as it were, touch and caress God.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus' humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the Child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God's humility shown forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the Child Jesus, God made Himself dependent, in need of human love. He put Himself in the position of asking for human love - our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God's humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season and to discover behind it the Child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass. Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body. Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the Holy Night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars' radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy. It was the encounter with God's humility that caused this joy - His goodness creates the true feast.

If we want to find God who appeared as a Child, we must set aside our intellectual pride and our false certainties which prevent us from recognizing God's closeness. We must follow the interior path of St. Francis - the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down spiritually in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who conceals Himself in the humility of a newborn baby.

In this spirit let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals Himself to the simple of heart. Let us pray especially for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God's kindness may shine upon them, that they - and we - may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of His Son in a stable. Amen.

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