Christmas 2023

Christmas 2023: silence, sobriety and listening

A meditation for the Christmas Season by the Prefect of the Dicastery, Card. Farrell


Dear friends,

A few days ago, the Holy Father extended an invitation to us when he said, “Let us value silence, sobriety and listening. May Mary, Virgin of silence, help us to love the desert and become credible voices who testify to her Son who is coming” (Angelus, 10 December 2023). I would like to take up the Pope's invitation offered with those simple words and join you for a moment of pause and silence to meditate on Christmas, to prepare ourselves to live it worthily and to restore meaning and depth to our faith so that we too may become “credible voices who testify to her Son”.

Christmas -- the birth of the Saviour -- is the beginning of our redemption! 

As we look around us at the present time, we observe that there is hardly anywhere to be found where we can find quiet, moderation and listening. On the contrary, every year it seems that the same scenario that occurred at the time of Jesus’ historic birth is being repeated – at that time, the Saviour, the Messiah announced by the prophets, was born in Bethlehem, but people were not aware of it; they did not recognise him and did not welcome him. The same thing is happening today. We celebrate Christmas, but hardly anyone is aware of Jesus’ presence among us. The religious meaning of this celebration seems to be lost. The mystery of the Incarnation is apparently irrelevant and most people are apathetic towards it.

It certainly should not be like this for Christians! We must not allow the general indifference, distraction, frenzy and lack of focus of a world absorbed in empty and superficial celebrations to enter our souls as well. For us, Christmas -- the birth of the Saviour -- is the beginning of our redemption! It is an event that has changed our lives and the lives of the whole world forever!

Incarnation: the absolutely freely-given nature of salvation

From the very first announcement of the birth of Jesus when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, we are presented with a central aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation which is the absolutely freely-given nature of salvation. We see in the Advent liturgy how the annunciation is placed in parallel with the visit of the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz who was invited to ask for a sign of hope for the difficult situation he was experiencing (cf. Is 7:10-17). On that occasion, under hypocritical religious pretexts, the king refused to ask for a sign. Yet, despite human ill-will, God made a promise which was that “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Is 7:14). Human beings stubbornly follow their own petty plans of salvation, but God, rich in compassion, comes to their aid by giving them true salvation which is beyond all human expectations. Isaiah’s mysterious announcement of a “son-Immanuel” was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the One who is truly the Emmanuel, the living presence of God with us. Also in the episode of the annunciation, the aspect of free gift is prominent in the expression “full of grace”. In the original language, this literally means ‘she who has been filled with grace’. It is God who acted and filled Mary's soul with grace, and who through her gave us the Saviour in a totally unexpected and unimaginable way.

The celebration of Christmas makes it clear to all of us that God always offers us his Son as Saviour. God does this in an entirely unconditional way even if we, like King Ahaz, are indifferent to his coming. We must admit, though, that in every age we human beings do not recognise our need for salvation. In our day, for example, we see violence on the rise everywhere, even within families and the closest emotional relationships; we witness the proliferation of wars, we notice the bewilderment and discouragement being felt by so many people, and we see the painful consequences of vices and every moral disorder that lead so many lives to ruin. Yet, despite all this, we also see that people do not long for a Saviour, do not hope for someone who can renew their lives. It almost seems as if they do not want to be healed or redeemed. It would be enough to open our eyes to see who we are as human beings and the reality that surrounds us for us to raise a cry for help to God, an invocation for salvation to the One who created us. Yet few do this.

With Mary: recognising that we need help, a rebirth, a grace

When confronted with this hardening of heart, which can also happen to us, we are helped by the example of the Virgin Mary. When she received the angel's message, Mary did not express any pride, and she did not respond like King Ahaz who did not need anything. Instead, she listened humbly and came to understand how God was drawing close to all human beings at that moment in time. God was looking with mercy upon their poverty. Therefore, she accepted God’s initiative and had no personal pretensions except that of making herself a “handmaid” for God's wonderful plans. She said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Dear friends, today too, as we look to Mary and prepare for Christmas, we are being asked to recognise that we need a Saviour. We need help, a rebirth; we need grace that does not come from us but that comes ‘from above’.

Jesus is God who became human to teach us what the true values of life are: mercy, forgiveness and charity

How is this accomplished? The sacraments of the Church communicate to us the grace that comes ‘from above’; they make us partakers of the divine nature and they give us the Holy Spirit. When we, like Mary, receive these gifts of salvation, everything is transformed.

Human existence is constantly under threat of pain, uncertainty of the future and loss of motivation to go on living. However, when we accept Christ the Saviour, it becomes a joyful path to eternity that is full of meaning and abounding in goodness, even in the midst of trials.  

The relationship between men and women can always be at risk due to misunderstandings and abuse. However, when people welcome the Saviour, it becomes a place of mutual acceptance and support, of unconditional love and mutual enrichment.

Coexistence between individuals and between nations is always threatened by selfish interests, prevarication and injustice. However, when we welcome Christ the Saviour there is more peace, more humanity and more fellowship.

The Incarnation is truly the beginning of a new life! In sending us his Son, God the Father offers us the possibility of not being left abandoned and being prisoners of our misery. Jesus is God who became human to teach us what the true values of life are -- mercy, forgiveness and charity -- and he gives us the strength to put them into practice.

Let us recognise that Jesus is our Saviour and welcome him into our lives without hesitation

As we gather around the Crib at home with our families and in the quiet of our churches, let us ask Our Lady for the humility and wisdom to recognise that Jesus is our Saviour and to welcome him into our lives without hesitation. May this Christmas help us to grow in faith in God and in charity towards everybody, especially towards those most afflicted by suffering and need.

A Blessed and Merry Christmas to you all!

22 December 2023