In his 2007 Christmas message, Pope Benedict XVI urged the faithful to look to the Christ child as the Light that chases away the darkness in our lives. As we begin this new year, we would do well to remember, as the Holy Father points out, that Christ's coming is not merely an event in our lives - rather, we have life through Him alone:
"To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today's world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ - true God and true Man - responds with his Nativity. Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him 'a shining light' brightens the horizon of humanity; in him 'a holy day' dawns that knows no sunset."
"The creative Word of God is Light, the source of life. All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light. Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light Himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, 'God from God, Light from Light.'"
It is difficult sometimes to believe that Christ has truly come for us. The thought of His coming into our hearts as an innocent child can be terrifying. If we invite Him in, we do so knowing that He will see our failings and our attachment to the sin in our lives; but perhaps welcoming Him becomes a bit easier when we remember that we were created in Light, and the divine image that we bear is a "spark" of God's splendor that no sin can erase.
As St. Thomas Aquinas points out in his Compendium of Theology, "the human race had need that God should become man to show forth the dignity of human nature" (230). This is one of the reasons for the Incarnation - God wishes to remind us of our dignity as His creation. St. Thomas continues, "At the same time, by willing to become man, God clearly displayed the immensity of His love for men, so that henceforth men might serve God, no longer out of fear of death... but out of the love of charity" (230). The message of the Incarnation is clear: He has come for us in Love. He has come to dispel fear!
And yet we must be open to receive Him; we must stay awake, look to the horizon and pray so that we will see the Light when He comes. The Holy Father reminded us in his Christmas message, as he does in his encyclical Spe Salvi, that we must not be afraid to watch and wait, for Christ's coming is our "sure hope":
"... Who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace! But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation."
As we make our resolutions for this new year, we all ought to ask ourselves how we might better prepare our hearts to be filled with the light of Christ. I plan to do more spiritual reading, but above all, I hope to delve more deeply into the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. As the Pope says, listening to God's Word allows us "to become enfolded and entranced by his love," and if we come to understand more fully God's great love for us, we grow closer to possessing that perfect love which "casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).
Finally, our Holy Father ended his Christmas address with a prayer for us: "This is my earnest wish for you who are listening. A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace." Amen! Let us keep the Pope in our prayers this new year as well.
Also, FYI: Spe Salvi is now available on Amazon.com in hardcover and paperback. Happy New Year, everyone!