Pope Francis celebrates and prepares for Christmas with pilgrims at today’s Wednesday audience
VATICAN CITY — A papal “birthday party” led to lessons on Christmas hope today, as Pope Francis met with faithful and pilgrims at the Wednesday general audience.
A papal “birthday party”
The meeting, held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, turned into a birthday celebration for Pope Francis, who turns 80 on Saturday. Faithful from around the world sent gifts, cards, and best wishes for the occasion. The pope was even presented with a cake.
“I thank you all for your wishes for my upcoming birthday,” the pope said to resounding applause.
But, he quipped: “I will tell you something that will make you laugh. In my country sending wishes in advance brings bad luck. And whoever sends wishes in advance is a jettatore, i.e. someone who brings bad luck!”
A love story
Continuing his new catechesis series on hope, today the pope turned to an Advent text from the prophet Isaiah (52:7,9-10), in which the prophet calls God’s people to rejoice for the Lord is near, bringing freedom from exile and the promise of renewal and redemption for the faithful “remnant” who continued to hope in his word.
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good tidings,
who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Break forth together into singing,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted his people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
“These words of Isaiah, which I wish to reflect on today, refer to the miracle of peace, and they do so in a very particular way, by focusing not on the messenger by on his feet that run swiftly: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace…’ (52:7),” the pope said.
“He appears as the Bridegroom of the Song of Songs who runs to his beloved: “Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills,” (Song 2:8)
“So, too, does the messenger of peace run, heralding the joyful announcement of freedom and salvation, and proclaiming that God reigns,” the pope said.
“God did not abandon his people, nor did he allow himself to be defeated by evil, for He is faithful and his grace is greater than sin. We need to learn this, because we are hardheaded and we don’t learn it,” he continued.
Speaking off the cuff, Pope Francis asked the crowds: “Who is greater, God or sin? And who triumphs in the end? God or sin? God. Is he capable of conquering the greatest sin, the most shameful and terrible, the worst of sins?”
“With what weapon does God conquer sin? With love!” he continued. “This means that ‘God reigns’; these are words of faith in a Lord whose power bends down to mankind, stoops down to offer mercy and free man from what disfigures the beautiful image of God in him, since when we sin the image of God is disfigured.”
The fulfilment of so great a love will be the kingdom brought by Jesus, that kingdom of forgiveness and peace which we celebrate at Christmas and which is fully realized at Easter, he explained.
“The most beautiful joy of Christmas is this interior joy of peace: The Lord has blotted out my sins, the Lord has forgiven me, the Lord has had mercy on me. He has come to save me. This is the joy of Christmas!”
Lessons in Christmas hope
“These, brothers and sisters, are the reasons for our hope,” Pope Francis told faithful and pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Hall. “When everything seems to be over; when faced with so many negative realties, when faith becomes difficult and the temptation comes to say that nothing makes sense, here instead is the good news brought by those swift feet: God is coming to accomplish something new, to establish a kingdom of peace. God has ‘bared his holy arm’ to bring freedom and consolation. Evil will not triumph forever; there will be an end to suffering. Despair is conquered, because God is with us.”
“In seeing the little Child of Bethlehem, the little ones of the world know that the promise is fulfilled,” he said. “In a newborn baby, entirely in need, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger is enclosed all the power of God who saves.”
“Christmas is a day to open our hearts,” Pope Francis said. “We need to open our hearts to the great littleness, which is there in that Child, and to great wonder. It is the wonder of Christmas for which we are preparing in hope during this Advent Season.”
“It is the surprise of a God who comes as a child,” the pope concluded. For the Son of God who shows his great power by embracing smallness, weakness and poverty, in order to draw near to each of us.