"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first- born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn," said the Pope, beginning his homily with a quote from the Gospel of Luke. "These words touch our heart every time we hear them" because "in some way mankind is awaiting God, waiting for Him to draw near.
"But when the moment comes," the Pope added, "there is no room for Him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbor, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.
"St. John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to St. Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: 'He came to His own home, and His own people received him not.' This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem," said the Holy Father, but "truly, it refers to all mankind: He through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but He is not listened to, He is not received."
"Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel," said Pope Benedict, recalling "the maternal love of Mary, … the fidelity of St. Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and … the visit of the wise men."
Hence, "there are those who receive Him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow Himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see His light and pass it on."
The Pope continued: "In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendor, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas."
In the stable of Bethlehem, in the city of King David, "the Davidic kingship started again in a new way," the Holy Father explained. "The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross." And the new palace is "different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ's love and so become one body with Him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness, this is the true kingship."
"Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: 'He pitched His tent among us'," said the Holy Father. "Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?"
"Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation."