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What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).
The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is He the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in crea-tion and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds.
It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?
The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch - they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people.
Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awaken, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us [and] for the many indications of his presence.
In every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly.
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!
An extract from Pope Benedict XVI's homily at the midnight Mass for Christmas 2009.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 11 (December 2010 - January 2011), p. 2
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