The words of the Apostle Paul - "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45) - sum up the mystery of humanity redeemed by Christ. A mystery hidden in God's eternal plan; a mystery which, in a certain way, became history with the incarnation of the Eternal Word of the Father; a mystery which the Church re-lives with profound emotion each Christmas.
Adam, the first "living man", Christ, "a life-giving spirit": the words of the Apostle help us to look more deeply, to recognise in the Child born in Bethlehem the Lamb once slain, who unveils the meaning of history (cf Rev 5:7- 9). At his Birth time and eternity met: God in man and man in God.
The immortal genius of Michelangelo portrayed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the moment when God the Father communicated the gift of life to the first man and made him "a living being". Between the finger of God and the finger of man stretching out to each other and almost touching, there seems to leap an invisible spark: God communicates to man a tremor of his own life, creating him in his own image and likeness.
That divine breath is the origin of the unique dignity of every human being, of humanity's boundless yearning for the infinite. It is to that instant of impenetrable mystery, the beginning of human life on earth, that our thoughts turn, as we contemplate the Son of God who becomes the son of man, the eternal face of God reflected in the face of a Child.
Because of the divine spark placed within him, man is a being endowed with intelligence and freedom, and thus capable of deciding responsibly regarding himself and his own destiny.
The great fresco of the Sistine Chapel continues with the scene of original sin: the serpent, wrapped round the tree, persuades our first parents to eat its forbidden fruit. The genius of art and the intensity of the Biblical symbolism are perfectly wedded in order to evoke that tragic moment, the beginning for humanity of a history of rebellion, sin and sorrow.
But could God forget the work of his hands, the masterpiece of creation? We know faith's answer: "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:4-5).
These words of the Apostle Paul ring out with particular eloquence as we contemplate the wondrous event of Christmas. In the newborn Child, laid in the manger, we greet the "new Adam" who became for us "a life-giving spirit". The whole history of the world tends towards him, born in Bethlehem in order to restore hope to every man and woman on the face of the earth.
From the manger, our gaze takes in all humanity, called to receive the grace of the "second Adam", yet still heir to the sin of the "first Adam". Is it not this first "No" to God, repeated in every human sin, which continues to mar the face of humanity? Children subjected to violence, humiliated and abandoned, women raped and exploited, young people, adults and the elderly marginalised, endless streams of exiles and refugees, violence and conflict in so many parts of the world.
We cannot but recall that shadows of death threaten people's lives at every stage of life, and are especially menacing at its earliest beginning and its natural end. The temptation is becoming ever stronger to take possession of death by anticipating its arrival, as though we were masters of our own lives or the lives of others. We are faced by alarming signs of the "culture of death", which pose a serious threat for the future.
Yet however dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the Light which appeared on that Holy Night at Bethlehem is stronger still. So much good is being done, silently, by men and women who daily live their faith, their work, their dedication to their families and to the good of society.
Encouraging too are the efforts of all those, including men and women in public life, striving to foster respect for the human rights of every person, and the growth of solidarity between peoples of different cultures, so that the debt of the poorest countries will be condoned and honourable peace agreements reached between nations engaged in tragic conflicts.
Message of Christmas
To peoples in all parts of the world who are moving with courage towards the values of democracy, freedom, respect and mutual acceptance, and to all persons of good will, whatever their culture, the joyful message of Christmas is addressed: "Peace on earth to those on whom God's favour rests" (cf Lk 2:14).
You, Lord Jesus, born for us at Bethlehem, ask respect for every person, especially the small and the weak; you ask for an end to all forms of violence - to wars, oppression, and all attacks on life. O Christ, whom we look on in the arms of Mary, you are the reason for our hope. Saint Paul tells us: "The old has passed away, behold, the new has come!" (2 Cor 5:17).
In you, only in you, is humanity offered the chance to become "a new creation". Thank you, Child Jesus, for this your gift! Happy Christmas to all!
This is the edited text of Pope John Paul II's Christmas 2000 homily. With acknowledgement to Catholic Information Network (CIN).