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Christmas Day, 25 December 1997


1. "The earth has seen its Saviour".
Today, Christmas Day, we live to the full
the truth of these words: the earth has seen its Saviour.
The first to see him were the shepherds of Bethlehem
who, at the words of the angels,
hastened with joy to the poor cave.
It was night, a night charged with mystery.
What did they see before them?
A Child placed in a manger
and at his side, lovingly, Mary and Joseph.
They saw a child but, enlightened by faith,
in this fragile creature they recognized God made man
and they offered him their poor gifts.
Thus they began, without realizing it,
that hymn of praise to Emmanuel, God come to dwell amongst us,
which would resound
from generation to generation.
The joyous canticle, the heritage of all
who today journey in spirit to Bethlehem,
to celebrate the birth of the Lord,
and praise God for his marvellous works.
We too unite ourselves in faith to them
in this unique encounter of praise
which is traditionally renewed every year at Christmas,
here in St Peter's Square, and which concludes with the blessing
which the Bishop of Rome imparts Urbi et Orbi:

Urbi: to this City which, thanks to the ministry
of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
has "seen" in a unique way
the Saviour of the world.

Et Orbi: to the whole world
in which the Good News of salvation
has spread far and wide,
to the very ends of the earth.
The joy of Christmas has thus become
the heritage of countless peoples and nations.
In truth, "all the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God" (Ps 97 [98]:3).

2. To all, therefore, is addressed the message of today's solemnity.
All are called to share
in the joy of Christmas.
"Acclaim the Lord all the earth
cry out and exult with songs of joy" (Ps 97 [98]:4).
Christmas is a day of extraordinary gladness!
This gladness has penetrated people's hearts
and has been expressed in many different ways
in the history and culture of Christian nations.
It has found an echo in liturgical and popular song,
in painting, literature and every field of art.
For the Christian formation of whole generations
such traditions and songs,
sacred plays and, above all, the crib
are of great importance.
The canticle of the angels at Bethlehem
has thus found a universal and varied echo
in the customs, attitudes, cultures of every age.
It has found an echo in the heart of every believer.

3. Today, a day of joy for all,
a day filled with so many calls for peace and brotherhood,
more intense and sharp become the imploring cries
of peoples who long for freedom and harmony,
in situations of disturbing ethnic and political violence.
Today there resound more strongly the voices
of those who give themselves generously
to breaking down barriers of fear and aggression,
promoting understanding between peoples
of different origins, colour and religious creeds.
Today there appear more tragic to us
the sufferings of peoples fleeing
to the mountains of their own land
or seeking a safe haven on the coasts of neighbouring countries,
in order to pursue the faint hope of a less precarious and more secure existence.
More distressing today is the tense silence
of the ever growing multitude of the new poor:
men and women without work and without shelter,
infants and children injured and violated,
adolescents enlisted in the wars of adults,
young victims of drugs
or attracted by deceptive myths.
Today is Christmas Day, a day of confidence for peoples long divided
who have finally come back to meet one another and talk.
These are often timid and fragile prospects,
slow and tiring dialogues,
but animated by the hope
of eventually reaching agreements
which respect the rights and duties of all.

4. It is Christmas! This straying humanity of ours
journeying towards the Third Millennium,
awaits You, o Child of Bethlehem,
who come to manifest the love of the Father.
You, the King of Peace, invite us today to fear not,
and you open our hearts to prospects of hope.
For this reason "let us sing to the Lord a new song
for he has worked wonders" (cf. Ps 97 [98]: 1).
Behold the greatest wonder worked by God:
He himself became man, he was born on Christmas night
he offered his life for us on the Cross,
he rose on the third day according to the Scriptures
and through the Eucharist he remains with us
to the end of time.
In truth "... the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14).
The light of faith enables us to recognize
in the new-born Child
the eternal and immortal God.
Of his glory we become witnesses.
Almighty though he was
he clothed himself in extreme poverty.
This is our faith, the faith of the Church,
which enables us to confess the glory of the only-begotten Son of God,
even if our eyes only see the man,
a Child born in the stable at Bethlehem.

God made man lies here today in the manger
and silently the universe contemplates him.
May humanity recognize him as its Saviour!

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