Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The last general audience of 2011, was a festive affair. Traditional Alpine bagpipe players dressed in leather breeches, entertained the eight thousand people packed into the Paul VI audience hall as they waited for Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival, while small children escaped the clutches of their parents to gaze in awe at the life size Nativity Scene gifted this year by the people of Pueblo in Mexico.

In fact Christmas, and how we should celebrate the festive season, was also at the heart of the Holy Father’s catechesis this week as he appealed to believers not to allow the external symbols of Christmas time swallow up its truest, most sacred sense. That the Lord is born for us all, even today, for mankind of the third millennium.

Speaking in English he said: “As Christmas approaches, I offer prayerful good wishes to you and your families for a spiritually fruitful celebration of the Lord’s birth. At Midnight Mass, we sing: “Today a Saviour is born for us”. This “Today” evokes an eternal present, for the mystery of Christ’s coming transcends time and permeates all history. “Today” – every day - we are invited to discover the presence of God’s saving love in our midst. In the birth of Jesus, God comes to us and asks us to receive him, so that he can be born in our lives and transform them, and our world, by the power of his love. The Christmas liturgy also invites us to contemplate Christ’s birth against the backdrop of his paschal mystery. Christmas points beyond itself, to the redemption won for us on the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. May this Christmas fill you with joy in the knowledge that God has drawn near to us and is with us at every moment of our lives”.

Earlier in comments in Italian Pope Benedict said: “Christmas greetings, which are exchanged in these days, must not loose their religious significance in today's society and the celebration must not be absorbed by external aspects that touch the heartstrings. Certainly, the external symbols are beautiful and important, provided they do not distract us, but rather help us to experience Christmas in its truest sense, which is sacred and Christian, so that our joy is not superficial but profound”.

He continued: “mankind today finds it increasingly difficult to open his eyes and enter the world of God", but Christmas comes each year to tell us that "God became man, He entered the limits of time and space to make it possible to meet him." It is event that involves" all men”. “The Incarnation and the birth of Jesus invite us already to direct our gaze toward His death and resurrection: Christmas and Easter are both celebrations of redemption. Easter celebrates it as a victory over sin and death: it marks the final moment, when the glory of the God-man shines like the light of day; Christmas celebrates it as God’s becoming man in history to bring man to God; it marks, so to speak, the starting point when we can see the light of dawn. But just as the dawn precedes and already foresees the light of day, so Christmas has already announced the cross and the glory of the Resurrection. May these two periods of the year, in which the two great celebrations are placed, at least in some areas of the world, help us to understand this aspect. In fact, Easter falls in early spring, when the sun defeats the dense fog and cold and renews the face of the earth, Christmas is right at the beginning of winter, when the light and warmth of the sun can not awaken nature, shrouded by the cold under whose blanket, however, it pulses with life. "

He also added that in these holy days “Christian charity must be particularly active to the most needy" because "there can be no delays for the poor."

At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict XVI received an early Christmas present, a parcel of letter’s and drawings by 33 children, delivered him by the three small winners of a competition held by the Archdiocese of Seoul, Korea, and the Korean Catholic newspaper Pyeonghwa Shinmun (Journal of Peace) to mark the 60th anniversary of the Holy Father’s priestly ordination. A touching scene as Pope Benedict bowed to speak to the small children overcome with excitement. During Mass on Christmas Eve one of these children will read the prayer of the faithful in Korean, the other two will receive Communion from the hands of the Holy Father.

Finally Pope Benedict XVI greeted all of the pilgrims present in various languages including English: I greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Singapore and the United States. My special greetings and good wishes go to the Tenth World Congress of the International Association of Maternal and Neonatal Health. My greeting also goes to the primary school children from Korea. I welcome the alumni of the Pontifical North American College who are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary of ordination, and the students of Holy Spirit Seminary in Brisbane, Australia. Upon all of you and your families I invoke God’s abundant blessings. Merry Christmas”!

The Wednesday General Audience was Pope Benedict XVI’s last public appointment before the beginning of Christmas celebrations. The Holy Father will preside at the Christmas vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, beginning 10 pm Rome time.

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