We are by now at the culmination of Advent. During these days of grace, the Church has made us reflect, through her liturgy, on the mystery of the twofold coming of Christ: in the lowliness of our human nature and in the final coming of his Parousia.
We Christians are called to meditate during this period on the Incarnation of the Son of Man - on the moving reality of a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
But it is exactly this child who guides, orients, marks the behaviour, the choices and the lives of persons standing by him and involved in his appearance among them.
There is the aged Elizabeth. She has felt the life of a child flower miraculously in her womb, after having been awaited for years as a grace of the Lord: John the Baptist, he who was to be a precursor of the Messiah. There is her husband Zachary, whose tongue was loosed for him to sing the great deeds of God toward his people.
There are the shepherds, who are enabled to contemplate the Saviour. There are the Wise Men, the Magi, who had been searching for years for the secret of the skies and the stars and who prostrated themselves in adoration before the newborn.
There is old Simeon, who had also long awaited the Messiah, "a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). There is Anne, the venerable prophetess, who rejoiced at "the deliverance of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38). And Joseph, the silent, vigilant, attentive, tender, paternal custodian and protector of the child's frailty.
And, above all, there is the mother, Mary Most Holy. In the face of God's inexpressible design, she sank into her insufficiency, called herself the "servant" of the Lord, and entered into the divine project with full readiness.
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Before the manger at Bethlehem - as later before the cross on Golgotha - mankind makes a basic choice in regard to Jesus. In the last analysis, this is the choice which man is called upon to make unavoidably day after day, in regard to God, the Creator and Father. And this is done, before all and above all, within the depths of the personal conscience. It is there that the encounter between God and man takes place.
This is the third coming of which the Fathers speak. It is the "interior Advent," which was analysed theologically and ascetically by St Bernard: "In the first coming, the Word was seen on earth and mingled with mankind, when, as he himself affirmed, they saw him and hated him. In the last coming every person shall see the salvation of God, and they shall look upon him whom they have pierced. But the intermediate coming is hidden, in it only the elect see him within themselves, and their souls are thereby saved".
This interior Advent is brought to life through constant meditation on and assimilation of the Word of God. It is rendered fruitful and animated by prayer of adoration and praise of God. It is reinforced by constant reception of the sacraments, those of Penance and the Eucharist in particular, for they cleanse and enrich us with the grace of Christ and make us "new," in accordance with Jesus' pressing call: "Be converted" (cf Mt 3:2; 4:17; Lk 5:32; Mk 1:15).
In view of this, every day can and ought become Advent for us Christians. It can and ought become Christmas! For, the more we purify our souls, the more shall we make room for God's love in our hearts, the more Christ will be able to come and be born in us!
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The imminence of Christmas finds us gathered for the customary welcome exchange of good wishes. Our hearts pour out with mutual joy: Dominus prope est! The Lord is near! (Phil 4:5).
Expectation of the earthly birth of the Son of God made man in these days polarises our attention, our vigilance and our prayer, sharpens it, makes it more intense and humble. We thank you, therefore, for this your presence, which enables us to foretaste, in communion of spirit, the wealth of the mystery which we are about to relive.
Let us go together to meet the Redeemer who is coming: the liturgy of Advent has already fully disposed us for this spiritual journey, which goes to meet the expectation of the peoples. We have so far followed it in the company of Isaiah, the "type" of messianic expectation. We have followed it in the tracks of the Baptist. He has once again made his voice resound for us: "Prepare the way" (cf Mt 3:3; Lk 3:4).
Above all we have followed it with Mary, the listening Virgin. She has been by us with her example and with her intercession because, where Jesus is awaited, there Mary always is, she, the "morning star," who prepares the advent of the "sun of justice" (Mal 3:20).
And now the days are about to be completed (cf Lk 2:6) of that blessed nativity which we shall see again in the divine mysteries of the holy night. Jesus is born to ransom, He comes to redeem us.
He comes to reconcile us with God. As St Augustine well emphasises, with his usual expressiveness, "By means of our Head we are reconciled with God, since in him the divinity of the only begotten became a sharer in our mortality."
Christmas is the beginning of that "marvellous exchange" which unites us to God. It is the beginning of the Redemption.