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The mystery of Christ’s birth

A festive atmosphere permeated the Paul VI audience Hall Wednesday and with only two days to go Christmas was at the heart of Pope Benedict�s greeting to pilgrims.

The stage, from where the Pope delivers his address, is home to a life sized Nativity Scene, hand carved in wood and the pine perfume of Christmas trees, gifted the Pope by the people of Belgium, filled the vaults of the Hall. While bagpipe players from northern Italy lent a decidedly seasonal note to Pope Benedict�s last audience before Christmas celebrations begin in earnest.

Pope Benedict spoke of the birth of Jesus from its historical origin. Originally, he recalled, the liturgical year was �centred not on birth but on the resurrection�.

He noted that the first to say that Jesus was born December 25 was Hippolytus of Rome, in his commentary on the Book of the prophet Daniel, written around 204. It coincided with the celebration of the feast of the dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BC. �The coincidence of dates would then mean that with Jesus the consecration of the temple is truly realized, the coming of God on this earth”.

Pope Benedict said that “In Christianity, the feast of Christmas took on definite form in the fourth century, when it took the place of the Roman festival of the ‘Sol Invictus’, the invincible sun; thus highlighting that the birth of Christ is the true victory of light over the darkness of evil and sin. ”

But he continued “the intense atmosphere of Christmas – said the Pope – developed in the Middle Ages thanks to St. Francis�, who �celebrated the birth of the Child Jesus with untold eagerness and called it the feast of feasts�. From St Francis� vision of the Mystery of the Incarnation came the visual representation of Christmas at Greccio�, today�s Nativity Scenes, which are, said the Pope, �the most beautiful of Christmas traditions”.

But above all concluded the Pope, Christmas �invites us to contemplate the mystery of Christ�s Birth and to experience the joy and hope which the newborn Saviour brings into our world. Gazing on the Christ Child lying in the manger, we contemplate the love of a God who humbly asks us to welcome him into our hearts and into our world. By coming among us as a helpless Child, God conquers our hearts not by force, but by love, and thus teaches us the way to authentic freedom, peace and fulfilment�. This Christmas, may the Lord grant us simplicity of heart, so that we may recognize his presence and love in the lowly Babe of Bethlehem, and, like the shepherds, return to our homes filled with ineffable joy and gladness�.