Pope’s Christmas Eve message: A challenge to us all

Pope Francis celebrate Christmas Eve midnight mass at the Vatican. Host TV via CNN.

Christmas. It’s the time of year that we hope for peace, that we think of others, that we spend time with our family of birth, or of choice or both.

A high point of the season is the televised midnight mass from the Vatican. For believers, and even for those who are not, the spectacle and the majesty are appealing. And particularly since Francis became Pope, there are often words in the sermon he delivers that instruct, guide and inspire.

This year’s message was no exception.

Citing the story of Jesus’ birth, from the gospel of Luke, Francis said, “Mary ‘gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’ (Lk 2:7). In these plain and clear words, Luke brings us to the heart of that holy night: Mary gave birth; she gave us Jesus, the Light of the world. A simple story that plunges us into the event that changes our history forever.”

He then does a flashback to why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, instead of their home in Nazareth. By government decree, they had to leave their home, their families, their land, and travel to Bethlehem to register in the census. Francis draws direct parallels with the refugees of today.

“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones. In many cases this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many others this departure can only have one name: survival. Surviving the Herods of today, who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood.”

He continues the allegory. Shepherds, a marginalized minority of the time, receive the first word of Jesus’ birth. They were considered, according to Francis, as “pagans, sinners and foreigners.” And yet, the message of joy comes to them first.

He says, “This is the joy that we tonight are called to share, to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy, has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the same.

“Faith impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth.”

Faith moves us to “not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned…. He invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality.”

For believers or non-believers, the Pope’s message is a powerful call to open our society, our nation, to those with fewer advantages, the poor, the homeless, the immigrant. Whether through charity or through legislation or both, these things are possible.

You can read Pope Francis’ full homily here.

Copyright The Gayly - December 25, 2017 @ 4:20 p.m. CST.