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Homily from Midnight Mass in Bethlehem
By: Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Zenit
Here is the homily delivered by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, during Midnight Mass in Bethlehem.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"While they were [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger." (Luke 2:6-7)
On behalf of the Child of Bethlehem, born in the shelter of a poor cave, and on behalf of many children, like him, born homeless and in refugee camps, I wish to welcome you with the very words the angels spoke to the shepherds: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And this is the token for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Luke 2: 10 to 12). We hope for this to happen again in the today that belongs to God, starting from this city and this cave and the manger towards which we will, in a moment, carry the divine child in procession!
"Today is born to [us] a Savior" (Lk 2:11); come, let us adore him (Psalm 95:6)"
"Born to us today"... The word "today", that Heaven spoke to Earth two thousand years ago, is our today and it is also today for all men of all times, because "Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13: 8). Time for men is a fleeting moment while for God time is a continuous now, for the Lord is being par excellence; He is the One Who Is (Exodus 3: 14). Christ, the Word of God is "the one who was and is" (Rev. 1:8). And today once again Our Lord and Savior is born among us.
The birth of Jesus today requires a radical change in the lives of human beings: "a great light" has shone upon us, we who are "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79). This is the light of universal love. Our hearts often prefer to limit themselves to loving those nearest to us: the love of parents towards their children and coreligionists among themselves. This particular love is called to grow wider to the very dimensions of the word, because the measure of love should be to love without measure. Peace and non-violence should replace hatred, war and violence; spirit should prevail over matter; openness to others, hospitality and availability towards them should break down the walls of separation and isolation, to proclaim "Glory to God in the highest heavens" and achieve "peace on earth to men of goodwill" (Luke 2:14).
"And the Word became flesh" (John 1: 14). This is the greatest event in human history: the word of God became man in "the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4). God took on a human face. He became man, to raise men and women to Himself! This mystery of incarnation, which is beyond our understanding, is the heart of our Christian faith. It is part of the divine plan for salvation and redemption of mankind. Amazed by this mystery, the apostles and the disciples proclaimed it forcefully with their words and the spilling of their blood.
The humility of the Word of God become flesh is for us a constant exhortation and a cure for pride. The eternal Word humbled himself, abandoned his divine prerogatives and grandeur (Philipians 2:6-7) and chose to be born a poor child in a manger. If he had appeared in the glory of his divinity, he would have blinded us, and we would not have considered him one of us, a member of our human family. His modest birth is an example for us. If God became as the poorest of the poor and needy among the needy, can there then be any other way forward in our journey toward eternal happiness, than overcoming our pride and practicing the humility and simplicity encouraged by the example of one who, "though he was rich, yet... became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9)? He thus founded the principles of sharing and solidarity. The financial problems affecting the world today stem from the fact that the world has forgotten the poor. Christmas has always been a cry that has disturbed the conscience of the materialistic world, which rests on its first principles of competitiveness and an unbridled race to enrichment at the expense of the poor. When men refuse to share worldly goods in a spirit of solidarity, money becomes and idol; and then they must pay for their separation from God. Following the recent downturn in the global economy and the crisis of unemployment, it is time that the world accept the primacy of the values of moderation and sharing. These values alone are able to revive the global economy. Indeed, "what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Matthew 16: 26).
Jesus Christ in his homeland
On behalf of all the faithful of the parishes of Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus, and on behalf of the faithful of Bethlehem, the fellow citizens of Jesus, I address myself to all believers throughout the world, and I urge them to pray for this Holy Land. It is a land that suffers and that hopes. Its inhabitants are brothers who see each other as enemies. When will we realize that a land deserves the adjective "holy" only when the man who lives there becomes holy? This land will deserve to be called "holy" when she breathes freedom, justice, love, reconciliation, peace and security.
Besides, how can we experience the joy of Christmas, while we continue to see the drama that accompanied the historic Birth of Christ? Christ had no home in Bethlehem and many of our fellow citizens are homeless because of the unrighteousness of men; hundreds of thousands of people have emigrated to seek a better quality of life because of the difficulty of living in this country and the insecurity; others are attempting to leave the land of their forefathers, the land sanctified by the mystery of the Incarnation of God.
How are we to feel the joy and celebration as we commemorate the first anniversary of the war and the tragedy of Gaza? The siege of the city is stifling the freedom of movement and transport is hindered. Many families are separated.
However, nothing keeps us from singing and invoking the Lord: "O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!" (Isaiah 63:19) "Rorate coeli desuper and Nuber pluant justum" ("Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness!" Catholic Advent Liturgy). Lord, you are Emmanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). We too want to be with you. May you, by the star of your grace, lead towards your "manger" men in conflict and government leaders who have the power to decide and who hold the destiny of mankind in their hands. May they know the whole Christmas message, a message that teaches humility, and at the same time restores to man his dignity as son of God!
On Christmas night, with all men of good will, we pray for peace. We beg for a peace different from what world promises or gives us. The world's peace is based on force and violence. We seek God's peace based on justice and human dignity. Our spirits moved by the evils that exist in the world, the conflicts of interest, the duplicity, the silence of right reason, the arms race and the possession of destructive weapons, we ask the Child of Bethlehem, thinking of all homeless children left to themselves in the alleys of refugee camps, for the sun of justice, love and life to rise over our land and put to flight the specter of death and destruction. (Malachi 3:20) May our children and the children of Gaza experience celebration and the joy of decorating and lighting the Christmas tree, symbol of life and the hope to live.
Oh Child of Bethlehem, we are tired of our situation, tired of waiting and tired of speeches and promises, conferences, deadlines and negotiations!
Oh Child of Bethlehem, give us your patience, your love and your kindness! We ask you that during this new year hands might clasp each other in concord, intentions might be purified, that hearts love one another, divisions disappear, and walls be demolished. And that in their place be built bridges of understanding and reconciliation!
Dear brothers and beloved children,
May the grace and love of God for people of all faiths and nationalities aid us in the pursuit of peace. Let each person in his own domain labor for the coming of the kingdom of God, "the kingdom of love and justice" (Preface to the Feast of Christ the King).
May we see in every man, woman or child, the very face of that son of this land, our fellow citizen who said: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God" (Mathew 5:5, 5:7, 5:9).
† Fouad Twal, Patriarch
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