D ear Brothers and Sisters:
After celebrating the solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we enter these days in the evocative atmosphere of preparations for this coming holy Christmas. In the present-day consumer society, this period suffers, unfortunately, a sort of commercial “contamination,” which runs the risk of altering its authentic spirit, characterized by recollection, sobriety, a joy that is not exterior but profound.
Therefore, it is providential that, as a door of entrance to Christmas, the feast exists of the Mother of Jesus, who better than any one, can guide us to know, love and worship the Son of God made man. Therefore, let us allow her to accompany us; may her sentiments encourage us to predispose ourselves with sincerity of heart and openness of spirit to recognize the Son of God in the Child of Bethlehem, come to earth for our redemption. Let us walk with her in prayer and accept the reiterated invitation addressed to us by the Advent liturgy to remain in expectation, in a vigilant and joyful expectation, as the Lord will not delay: He comes to deliver his people from sin.
Continuing a beautiful and consolidated tradition, in many families the crib begins to be prepared, as if to relive with Mary these days full of trepidation that preceded Jesus’ birth. To set up the crib at home can be a simple but effective way of presenting the faith and transmitting it to one’s children. The manger helps us to contemplate the mystery of God’s love who revealed himself in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem cave.
St. Francis of Assisi was so overwhelmed by the mystery of the Incarnation, that he wanted to present it again in Greccio with the living manger, thus becoming the initiator of a long popular tradition which still keeps its value for evangelization today.
The crib can help us, in fact, to understand the secret of the true Christmas, because it speaks of humility and the merciful goodness of Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, as the shepherds, accept in Bethlehem the words of the angel: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). It continues to be a sign also for us, men and women of the 21st century. There is no other Christmas.
As our beloved John Paul II did, in a few moments I will also bless the images of the Child Jesus that the children of Rome will place in the crib in their homes. With this gesture, I want to invoke the Lord’s help so that all Christian families will prepare to celebrate with faith the forthcoming Christmas feasts. May Mary help us to enter into the genuine spirit of Christmas.
These comments were made by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, December 11, 2005 following the noon recitation of the Angelus. They tie together the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the blessing and preparation of family mangers scenes, and the true spirit of the season.