Pope Francis: Rediscover the meaning of Christmas in the manger

What is this night saying in our lives? Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, after many Christmases spent amid decorations and presents, after many purchases wrapped up in the mystery we celebrate, there is danger. We know many things about Christmas, but we forget its true meaning. So how else can we know the meaning of Christmas? First of all, where do we go to find it? It seems that the Gospel of the birth of Jesus was written precisely for this purpose: to take us by the hand and take us where God wants us to go.

It begins with a situation different from ours: everyone is busy, preparing for an important event, a large number of people, which required a lot of preparation. In that way, the atmosphere was very similar to today’s Christmas celebration. However the Gospel has little to do with that worldly situation; it quickly turns our eyes to something else, which it considers more important. They are small and seemingly unimportant details that, however, he mentions three times, always related to the central figures of the story. First, Mary places Jesus in a “manger” (Lk 2:7); then the angels told the shepherds about “the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12); and finally, the shepherds, who find “the baby lying in the manger” (verse 16). To rediscover the meaning of Christmas, we need to look at the manger. But why is the manger so important? Because it is a sign, not by accident, of the coming of Christ to this world. This is how he announces his coming. It is the way in which God is born in history, so that history itself can be reborn. So what does the manger tell us? Three things, at least: near, poverty and concrete.

Why is the manger so important? Because it is a sign, not by accident, of the coming of Christ to this world. This is how he announces his coming.

Getting close to each other. A manger acts as a feeding vessel, enabling food to be eaten quickly. In this way, it can symbolize one aspect of our personality: our greed for food. While the animals eat from their cages, men and women in our world, with their hunger for wealth and power, eat even their neighbors, their brothers and sisters. How many battles we have seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom held in contempt! As always, the main victims of this human greed are the weak and vulnerable. This Christmas too, as in the case of Jesus, the world that wants money, power and pleasure does not give space for the little ones, for many children who have not been born, the poor and the forgotten. I think of all the children torn apart by war, poverty and injustice. But those are the places where Jesus comes, the child in the manger of rejection and rejection. In him, the Child of Bethlehem, every child exists. And we ourselves are invited to look at life, politics and history through the eyes of children.

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In the midst of rejection and unhappiness, God reveals himself. He comes there because there we see the problem of our humanity: the indifference caused by the haste to get rich and eat. There, in that manger, Christ is born, and there we find his approach to us. He comes there, in the dining room, so that it will be our food. God is not a father who eats his children, but he is a Father who makes us his children through Jesus, and feeds us with his tender love. He comes to touch our hearts and tell us that only love is the power that changes the course of history. He does not stay away from power, but approaches us with humility; He left his throne in heaven and laid himself in a manger.

Dear brother, dear sister, tonight God draws near to you, because you are important to him. In the manger, as the food of your life, he tells you: “If you are consumed by events, if you are consumed by a sense of guilt and unworthiness, if you are hungry for righteousness, I, your God, I’m with you. I know what you are going through, because I found myself in the same situation. I know your weaknesses, your weaknesses and your history. I was born to tell you that I am close to you, and I will always be close to you.” The Christmas manger, the first message of the Holy Child, tells us that God is with us, loves us and we are looking. So, take heart! Don’t let yourself be overcome by fear, resignation or despair. God was born in a manger so that you can be born again in the place where you thought you were beaten There is no evil, no sin, that Jesus does not want to save you from. And he can. Christmas means that God is close to us: let hope be born again!

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The first person, the greatest treasure, is Jesus himself. But do we want to stand by his side? Do we approach him?

The manger in Bethlehem does not only speak to us about intimacy, but also about me poverty. Around the manger there is very little: hay and grass, a few animals, some small. People were warm in the inn, but not here in the cold of the stable. But this is where Jesus was born. The manger reminds us that he was surrounded by nothing but love: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds; all poor people, united by love and wonder, not wealth and great expectations. Therefore the poverty of the manger shows us where real wealth in life can be found: not in money and power, but in relationships with people.

And the first person, the greatest treasure, is Jesus himself. But do we want to stand by his side? Do we approach him? Do we love his poverty? Or do we choose to remain concerned with our own welfare and interests and concerns? Above all, do we visit him where he is found, in the poor places of our world? Because that’s where he is. We are called to be a Church that worships the poor Jesus and serves the poor. As the holy bishop once said: “The Church supports and blesses efforts to change the ways of injustice, and it sets only one condition: that social, economic and political change that is really beneficial good to the poor” (OA ROMERO, Pastoral Message for the New Year, 1 January 1980). Indeed, it is not easy to leave the comfort of the world to accept the wonderful beauty of the fields of Bethlehem, but let us remember that it is certainly not Christmas without the poor. Without the poor, we can celebrate Christmas, but not the birth of Jesus. Dear brothers, at Christmas God is poor: let love be born again!

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Now we come to our final point: the manger speaks to us concrete. In fact, the child sleeping in the manger shows us a wonderful, even impure scene. It reminds us that God truly became flesh. As a result, all our theories, our good thoughts and our pious feelings are no longer enough. Jesus was born poor, poor and died poor; he did not talk much about poverty as he lived it, until the end, for our sake. From the manger to the cross, his love for us was always clear and firm. From birth to death, the carpenter’s son embraced the hardness of wood, the weight of our lives. He didn’t just love us with words; he loved us so much!

As a result, Jesus is not satisfied with appearances. He who has clothed himself in our flesh wants more than just good intentions. He who was born in a manger, seeks a firm faith, made of worship and love, not empty words and pride. He who lay naked in a manger and hung naked on the cross, is asking us for the truth, asking us to go to the naked truth of things, and lay at the feet of the manger all our excuses, our justifications and hypocrisies ours. Softly wrapped in cloths by Mary, she wants us to be clothed in love. God does not want appearance but presence. May we not let this Christmas pass without doing something good. Since it’s his party, his birthday, let’s give him the gifts he likes! At Christmas, God is concrete: in his name let us give a little hope of rebirth to those who feel hopeless!

Jesus we see you sleeping in a manger. We see you as shut up, always on our side: thank you Lord! We see you as the poor, to teach us that true wealth does not reside in things but in people, and above all in the poor: forgive us, if we have failed to receive you and serve you in them. We see you as concrete, because your love for us is clear. Help us to give flesh and life to our faith. Amen.


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