Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear brothers and sisters, beloved faithful of our Jerusalem diocese, dear pilgrims from all over the world and all who, on this holy night, are connected with us through the many means of communication: each of us, gathered together in this place, feels called to Bethlehem, the city where our Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, was born!
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem” (Mt 2:1): This is not only an historical-geographical indication but a divine choice. Being born here, in a particular place, in a city of this land is what God has always wanted, as He loves the cities of men. If the Bible begins in a Garden, then it ends in a city, the holy Jerusalem. And the very life of Christ, which begins here, from birth to death, will be a continuous journey through cities and villages: the desert was, for Him, a necessary, but not definitive, pause.
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Jerusalem, are names dear to our hearts, because they are names of cities Jesus loved. And after Him, the Apostles continued to pass through many others: Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Antioch, Rome. A journey that continues in our cities today, guarded and enlivened by His presence: “Behold, I am with you all days, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).
Our God is a God of the city, Who lives in cities because He is a God with men, Immanuel; His Word is not limited to a private or solely personal religious proposal. He seeks and wants to occupy and to transform a street, a house, a city. Whoever wants to confine the Gospel or the presence of Christians within private or intimate borders, has not understood the desire of God. The Incarnation of the Son of God is a leaven, a yeast that is destined to grow and mix together all the ingredients, the entire reality of man, the universe and history, life and city.
The Birth of Christ in Bethlehem is, therefore, God’s step towards our land and our cities, and the invitation to go to Bethlehem, already addressed to the shepherds and the Magi, is repeated to us today, and from there to go the extreme limits of the earth. The birth of the Lord in our cities wants to ignite within us a sort of “political passion,” awakening the responsibility of caring for the city and the land where we live. Not to own or occupy it, but to transform it from a simple urban area of private services and personal interests, to an area and place that provides the experience of communion, peace, relationship and sharing.
Allow me, then, tonight, to turn an active and focused look at our cities and our way of inhabiting them. In the light of the Eternal Word, Who comes to dwell among us, I would like to pause with you in contemplating this “divine dwelling,” to welcome, to convert and uplift “the human dwelling.”
The dwelling of Christ among us was, above all, an act of love. He shared our life in everything except sin (cf. Heb 4:15). He “went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38): He entered our houses, ate at our tables, drank our wine, walked through our streets, played with our children, rejoiced at our holidays and wept for our dead. He did not choose separation and distance, nor did He love isolation and remoteness. His was a style of sharing and communion, participation and presence. His disciples, we Christians, cannot but follow in His footsteps. If it is true that we do not have here a lasting city but walk towards the future one (cf. Heb 13:14), it is also true that we have been asked to “stay in the city” (cf. Lk 24:49) to unfold in it the ways of the Kingdom.
On this night, celebrating the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, we proclaim, together with the angels, love for this land, for its cities; we want to respond to the vocation received to be here as architects of peace, prophets of hope, convinced and convincing witnesses of sharing and dialogue.
With Jesus, we want to inhabit this land, not to abandon it. We want to share the pains and anguish, the joys and hopes, and that all walk together on the path of salvation. We declare ourselves prepared for every effort, every commitment, and any initiative that makes our cities open and hospitable, where everyone can find a home, a job, a worthy and good life. We ask the Child of Bethlehem and His Parents who came here looking for lodging, to help us stay in the city; we ask for help to continue being, like them, the presence of peace in this land. Because our cities without Christians will be more impoverished and our Christians without their cities risk losing the way.
We recognize that in this same city the Holy Family experienced rejection, closed doors, and the blind violence of Herod. It is always possible that the people of God do not recognize Jesus and do not receive Him (cf. Jn 1:11). Coming to dwell among us, the Lord also reveals the contradiction (cf. Lk 2:34) of our often different and overbearing dwelling place. The beloved city is also the city that makes Him weep (cf. Lk 19:41) and a place where the roads of triumph are quickly transformed into a way of the cross, a way of sorrows. The cities of men can be turned into battlefields, places of confrontation and oppression, injustice and violence. His voice and, even more so, His Life, then as today, ask and offer a possibility of change that does not progress through the path of sterile protest or violent opposition, but proposes and testifies to us the way of humble and concrete service. We would then like that in our town squares and our homes, through our speech and our witness, the Gospel would continue to transform our coexistence, our relationships, our choices, our lives. We ask that His Word and our prayer be heard in the hearts of those who hold political and social authority. We no longer want to weep on account of rejection, extreme poverty, and the many sufferings that afflict our people. We would like that, thanks to the good will of all, God can continue to live in our cities.
And therefore we hope that our cities are truly holy, not only and not so much for the dearest memory preserved in the stones, but because of the life that lives in them. The Lord, born among us, has placed the beginning of the Kingdom on earth and its promised fulfillment in the Jerusalem of Heaven. Our Christmas celebration is not a simple commemoration, but the effective announcement that what began here in Christ’s Birth will find complete realization when He returns.
In the expectation of His coming, we build our cities. It would be good if they were not an expression of power or claim like Babel, but a house of prayer and meeting for all peoples, from now on (see Isaiah 56:7). We want, then, to watch together with the pastors, so that we may reach the promise of Salvation and proceed on pathways of goodness. Like the Magi, we want to look to the Star of Bethlehem and to welcome the grace and enduring love of our God to return to our cities “by another way” (Mt 2:12), for a new way that would render our living new. Tonight, we ask Christ the Lord, born in Bethlehem, to give us the grace and the strength to transform our cities into His Kingdom, to travel with Him the ancient and ever new way of faith, love, and hope until from heaven, the new city will descend, where God will dwell with us and we with him forever. Amen!
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem