God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has "appeared". But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality?
For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real "epiphany", the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness.
Today, too, people who are no longer able to recognise God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world.
"The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed": this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.
God has appeared - as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace.
At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors' rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you.
We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors' rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.
Let us pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God's kindness may shine upon them, that they - and we - may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.
These are extracts from Benedict XVI's homily at the Christmas Eve Mass, 2011, in St Peter's Basilica