Nativity of the Lord



Pope Francis  24.12.13  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica   Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A    Isaiah 9: 1-6,    Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis Chritsmas Midnight Mass 24.12.13

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of
Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. Because he is faithful, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11). A people who walk, but as a pilgrim people who do not want to go astray.

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. The pilgrim is bound by duty to keep watch and the shepherds did just that. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). As the angels said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”. And I also repeat to all of you: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: our Father always forgives us. He is our peace. Amen.



Pope Francis  24.12.16  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica   Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A    Isaiah 9: 1-6,      Titus 2: 11-14     Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis  24.12.16 Christmas Midnight Mass

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Tit 2:11). The words of the Apostle Paul reveal the mystery of this holy night: the grace of God has appeared, his free gift. In the Child given to us, the love of God is made visible.

It is a night of glory, that glory proclaimed by the angels in Bethlehem and by ourselves as well, all over the world. It is a night of joy, because henceforth and for ever, the infinite and eternal God is God with us. He is not far off. We need not search for him in the heavens or in mystical notions. He is close at hand. He became man and he will never withdraw from our humanity, which he has made his own. It is a night of light. The light prophesied by Isaiah (cf. 9:1), which was to shine on those who walked in a land of darkness, has appeared and enveloped the shepherds of Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:9).

The shepherds discover simply that “a child has been born to us” (Is 9:5). They realize that all this glory, all this joy, all this light, converges to a single point, the sign that the angel indicated to them: “You will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This is the enduring sign for all who would find Jesus. Not just then, but also today. If we want to celebrate
Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the frail simplicity of a tiny new-born child, the meekness with which he is placed in a manger, the tender affection with which he is wrapped in his swaddling clothes. That is where God is.

With this sign, the Gospel reveals a paradox. It speaks of the emperor, the governor, the high and mighty of those times, yet God does not make himself present there. He appears not in the splendour of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable; not in pomp and show, but in simplicity of life; not in power, but in astonishing smallness. In order to meet him, we need to go where he is. We need to bow down, to humble ourselves, to make ourselves small. The new-born Child challenges us. He calls us to leave behind fleeting illusions and to turn to what is essential, to renounce our insatiable cravings, to abandon our endless yearning for things we will never have. We do well to leave such things behind, in order to discover, in the simplicity of the divine Child, peace, joy and the luminous meaning of life.

Let us allow the Child in the manger to challenge us, but let us also be challenged by all those children in today’s world who are lying not in a crib, caressed with affection by their mothers and fathers, but in squalid “mangers that devour dignity”. Children who hide underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of large cities, in the hold of a boat overladen with immigrants… Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by those children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one relieves their hunger, by those who hold in their hands not toys, but weapons.

The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, challenges and unsettles us, because it is at once a mystery of hope and of sadness. It has a taste of sadness, inasmuch as love is not accepted, and life discarded. Such was the case with Joseph and Mary, who met with closed doors, and placed Jesus in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7). Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. Today too, that same indifference can exist, whenever Christmas becomes a holiday with ourselves at the centre rather than Jesus; when the lights of shop windows push the light of God into the shadows; when we are enthused about gifts but indifferent to our neighbours in need. This worldliness has kidnapped Christmas; we need to liberate it!

Yet Christmas has above all a taste of hope because, for all the darkness in our lives, God’s light shines forth. His gentle light does not frighten us. God, who is in love with us, draws us to himself with his tenderness, by being born poor and frail in our midst, as one of us. He is born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread”. In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters our life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. He does not come to devour or to lord it over us, but instead to feed and serve us. There is a straight line between the manger and the cross where Jesus will become bread that is broken. It is the straight line of love that gives and saves, the love that brings light to our lives and peace to our hearts.

That night, the shepherds understood this. They were among the marginalized of those times. Yet no one is marginalized in the sight of God, and that Christmas, they themselves were the guests. People who felt sure of themselves, self-sufficient, were at home with their possessions. It was the shepherds who “set out with haste” (cf. Lk 2:16). Tonight, may we too be challenged and called by Jesus. Let us approach him with trust, starting from all those things that make us feel marginalized, from our limitations and our sins. Let us be touched by the tenderness that saves. Let us draw close to God who draws close to us. Let us pause to gaze upon the crib, and relive in our imagination the birth of Jesus: light and peace, dire poverty and rejection. With the shepherds, let us enter into the real Christmas, bringing to Jesus all that we are, our alienation, our unhealed wounds, our sins. Then, in Jesus, we will enjoy the taste of the true spirit of Christmas: the beauty of being loved by God. With Mary and Joseph, let us pause before the manger, before Jesus who is born as bread for my life. Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us simply tell him: Thank you. Thank you because you have done all this for me.





Pope Francis   24.12.18  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica   Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord             Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis  24.12.18 Christmas Midnight Mass

Joseph with Mary his spouse, went up “to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4). Tonight, we too, go to Bethlehem, there to discover the mystery of Christmas.

Bethlehem: the name means house of bread. In this “house”, the Lord today wants to encounter all mankind. He knows that we need food to live. Yet he also knows that the nourishments of this world do not satisfy the heart. In Scripture, the original sin of humanity is associated precisely with taking food: our first parents “took of the fruit and ate”, says the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:6). They took and ate. Mankind became greedy and voracious. In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.

Bethlehem is the turning point that alters the course of history. There God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: “Here I am, as your food”. He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus begins to say: “Take and eat. This is my body” (Mt 26:26). The tiny body of the Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed. From the “house of bread”, Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbours. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

The Lord knows that we need to be fed daily. That is why he offered himself to us every day of his life: from the manger in Bethlehem to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us (cf. Rev 3:20). At Christmas, we on earth receive Jesus, the bread from heaven. It is a bread that never grows stale, but enables us even now to have a foretaste of eternal life.

In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. For once Jesus dwells in our heart, the centre of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love. Tonight, as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the new-born Child a new fragrance of life, the odour of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity? In Bethlehem, beside where Jesus lay, we see people who themselves had made a journey: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn-out meals, but bids us rise quickly from table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves: At Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?

After Bethlehem as the house of bread, let us reflect on Bethlehem as the city of David. There the young David was a shepherd, and as such was chosen by God to be the shepherd and leader of his people. At Christmas, in the city of David, it was the shepherds who welcomed Jesus into the world. On that night, the Gospel tells us, “they were filled with fear” (Lk 2:9), but the angel said to them “Be not afraid” (v. 10). How many times do we hear this phrase in the Gospels: “Be not afraid”? It seems that God is constantly repeating it as he seeks us out. Because we, from the beginning, because of our sin, have been afraid of God; after sinning, Adam says: “I was afraid and so I hid” (Gen 3:10). Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated “no”, God constantly says “yes”. He will always be God-with-us. And lest his presence inspire fear, he makes himself a tender Child. Be not afraid: these words were not spoken to saints but to shepherds, simple people who in those days were certainly not known for their refined manners and piety. The Son of David was born among shepherds in order to tell us that never again will anyone be alone and abandoned; we have a Shepherd who conquers our every fear and loves us all, without exception.

The shepherds of Bethlehem also tell us how to go forth to meet the Lord. They were keeping watch by night: they were not sleeping, but doing what Jesus often asks all of us to do, namely, be watchful (cf. Mt 25:13; Mk 13:35; Lk 21:36). They remain alert and attentive in the darkness; and God’s light then “shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is also the case for us. Our life can be marked by waiting, which amid the gloom of our problems hopes in the Lord and yearns for his coming; then we will receive his life. Or our life can be marked by wanting, where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities; our heart then remains barred to God’s light. The Lord loves to be awaited, and we cannot await him lying on a couch, sleeping. So the shepherds immediately set out: we are told that they “went with haste” (v. 16). They do not just stand there like those who think they have already arrived and need do nothing more. Instead they set out; they leave their flocks unguarded; they take a risk for God. And after seeing Jesus, although they were not men of fine words, they go off to proclaim his birth, so that “all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (v. 18).

To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love. The Good Shepherd, who at Christmas comes to give his life to the sheep, will later, at Easter, ask Peter and, through him all of us, the ultimate question: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15). The future of the flock will depend on how that question is answered. Tonight we too are asked to respond to Jesus with the words: “I love you”. The answer given by each is essential for the whole flock.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15). With these words, the shepherds set out. We too, Lord, want to go up to Bethlehem. Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism.

I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17).




Pope Francis   24.12.19  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica    Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A        Isaiah 9: 1-6,      Titus 2: 11-14     Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis 24.12.19 Midnight Mass Nativity of Jesus

"Upon those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness a light has shone"(Is 9:1). This prophecy of the first Reading was fulfilled in the Gospel: in fact, as the shepherds kept watch over their flocks at night, "the glory of the Lord shone around them"(Luke 2:9). In the midst of our earthly night a light appeared from heaven. What does this light that appeared in darkness mean? The Apostle Paul suggests this to us, who told us: "God's grace has appeared." The grace of God, who "brings salvation to all men"(Titus 2:11), has shone on our world tonight.

But what is this
grace? It is divine love, love that transforms life, renews history, frees from evil, instils peace and joy. Tonight the love of God has shown itself to us: it is Jesus. In Jesus the highest became small, to be loved by us. In Jesus God became a child, to be embraced by us. But, we can still ask ourselves, why does St. Paul call the coming into God's world "grace"? To tell us it's completely free. While here on earth everything seems to respond to the logic of giving to get, God comes free. His love is non-negotiable: we have done nothing to deserve it and we can never reward Him.

God's grace has appeared. Tonight we realize that, while we were not up to it, He made himself small for us; as we went about our own deeds, He came among us.
Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. To me, to you, to each of us he says today: "I love you and I will always love you, you are precious in my eyes". God does not love you because you think right and behave well; he just loves you. His love is unconditional, it's not up to you. You may have misconceptions, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord does not give up loving you. How often do we think that God is good if we are good and that He punishes us if we are bad. It's not like that. In our sins, He continues to love us. His love does not change, He is not fickle; He's faithful, He's patient. This is the gift we find at Christmas: we discover with amazement that the Lord is absolute gratuity, absolute tender love. His glory does not dazzle us, His presence does not frighten us. He was born in utter poverty, to win our hearts with the wealth of His love.

God's grace has appeared. Grace is synonymous with beauty. Tonight, in the beauty of God's love, we also rediscover our beauty, because we are God's beloved. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, happy or sad, in his eyes we look beautiful: not for what we do, but for what we are. There is in us an indelible, intangible beauty, an irrepressible beauty that is the core of our being. Today God reminds us of this, lovingly taking our humanity and making it His own, marrying it forever.

Indeed, the great joy announced tonight to the shepherd is indeed for all the people. In those shepherds, who were certainly not saints, we are also there, with our frailties and weaknesses. As He called them, God also calls us, because He loves us. And, in the dark nights of life, He says to us as to them: "Do not be afraid"(Lc 2:10). Take courage, do not lose confidence, do not lose hope, do not think that loving is wasted time! Tonight love has overcome fear, a new hope has arrived, the gentle light of God has overcome the darkness of human arrogance. Humanity, God loves you and for your sake He became man, you are no longer alone!

Dear brothers and sisters, what are we to do with this grace? Only one thing: to accept the gift. Before we go in search of God, let us allow ourselves be sought by Him, who seeks us first. Let us not begin with our abilities, but with His grace, because He, Jesus, is the Saviour. Let us contemplate the Child and let ourselves be enveloped by His tenderness. We have no more excuses not to let ourselves be loved by Him: whatever goes wrong in life, whatever doesn't work in the Church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse. It will become secondary
, because in the face of Jesus' extravagant love, a love utter meekness and closeness, there is no excuse. The question at Christmas is, "Do I let myself be loved by God? Do I abandon myself to His love that comes to save me?"

Such a great gift deserves so much gratitude. To accept this grace means being ready to give thanks in return. But often we live our lives with such little gratitude. Today is the right day to get closer to the tabernacle, the crib, the manger, to say thank you. Let us receive the gift that is Jesus, in order then to become a gift like Jesus. Becoming a gift is giving meaning to life. And it is the best way to change the world: we change, the Church changes, history changes when we stop trying to change others but try to change ourselves, making our lives a gift.

Jesus shows us this tonight: He did not change history by pressuring anyone or by the force of words, but with the gift of His life. He didn't wait for us to become good before He loved us, but He gave Himself freely to us. May we not wait for our neighbours to become good before we do good for them, for the Church to be perfect before we love her, for others to respect us before we serve them. Let's begin with ourselves. This is what it means freely to accept the gift of grace. And holiness is nothing more than to preserve this freedom.

A charming legend relates that at the birth of Jesus, the shepherds hurried to the stable with various gifts. Each one brought what he had, some brought the fruits of their own work, some brought something precious. But, as they were presenting their gift, there was one shepherd who had nothing. He was very poor, he had nothing to offer. As the others competed in to give their gifts, he stood on the side-lines, embarrassed. At one point St. Joseph and Our Lady found it hard to receive all the gifts, many, especially Mary, who was holding the Baby. Then, seeing that shepherd with empty hands, she asked him to come closer. And she put Jesus in his arms. That shepherd, in accepting Him, realized that he had received what he did not deserve, that he had in his arms the greatest gift in history. He looked at his hands, those hands that always seemed empty to him: they had become the cradle of God. He felt loved, and overcoming the embarrassment, he began to show Jesus to the others, because he could not keep for himself the gift of gifts.

Dear brother, dear sister, if your hands look empty to you, if you think your heart is poor in love, tonight is for you. God's grace has appeared to shine in your life. Embrace it and the light of Christmas shines in you.