Homily of Most Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa for Christmas 2016
“Behold: the Lord is at the gates!” (cf. James 5:9).
Christmas is the entrance of the Son of God into the world: Christ enters the world, he comes among his people. And before Him all is an opening and a closing of doors. In the time following the Jubilee of Mercy, we can interpret Christmas as the door that God keeps open to go out to man and invite him to enter into communion with him.
At Christmas, first of all, the Gate of God is opened, from which comes the Son, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The heavens open: from the birth up to the baptism of the Lord all is an opening of the gates of heaven from which the angels go out and return, announcing and preparing the coming of the Spirit. Most of all, the human and divine heart of the Son open up: “For this reason, entering the world, Christ says: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, instead you have prepared a body for me; you have not delighted in holocausts nor in sin offerings. Then I said: Behold, I come – as it is written of me in the scroll of the book – to do your will, O God” (Heb 10: 5-7). Christ opens wide the doors of his life as much as to say “I am the gate: if one enters through me, he will be saved; and will enter and go out and find pasture.” (Jn 10:9). He is in person “the Lord’s own gate, through it the righteous enter” (Ps 118:20).
At the open Gate of God, correspond open doors for men and women willing to let Him enter: the heart of Mary and Joseph, with a “yes” without hesitation; the doors of the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah; the generous journey of the shepherds and the Magi, of Simeon and Anna…
But there are also doors that close, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him.” (Jn 1:11). Closed were the heart of Herod, the houses of those who have no room for him, the life of those who already have to protect their possessions, their projects to be realized, and their ideas to be enforced.
I like this image of the door: it evokes, recalls, invites to run the risk of the freedom that opens or closes, and so makes possible or impossible the peace that we await, the encounter that saves. The Birth of Christ and of Christians, in fact, is not the magic or sentimental celebration that we can live locked up in our houses, secure in personal, familiar or social enclosures. It is not the enjoyment, as much private as independent and indifferent, of an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life, a colored and glittering diversion within a very grim life.
Christmas is the announcement of a salvation that waits to be accepted to find fulfillment. Like Mary after the angel’s announcement, like Joseph after the heavenly dream, like the shepherds after hearing the song of the angels, like the Magi after seeing the star, we too are invited to set out, to make the commitment, to go out from our laziness and our reasoning to go up to Bethlehem, to enter the new time of life and peace, the Kingdom that Christ ushers in. The door is opened, our freedom is invited.
I am well aware that we are all victims of a growing sense of insecurity and mistrust. Hopes of peace too often disappointed, violence in recurrent attacks, so much rhetorical and ineffective speech push us to withdraw, to lock the doors, to set up surveillance systems, to run far away rather than to remain resisting in trust and hope.
We fear the stranger who knocks at the door of our home and at the borders of our countries. Closed doors, defended borders, before personal and political choices, are a metaphor for the fear that inevitably breed the violent dynamics of the present time. We are frightened by what happens in the world, with our hopes that, here, as in many countries around the world, drown in the midst of corruption, in the power of money, in sectarian violence, in fear: in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan. But also in our Holy Land, the thirst for justice, dignity, truth and true love continues to grow. But we continue to reject and deny each other, living and thinking as if we only were there and there was no place there for the other. “There was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7).
Our fears determine our choices and our orientations. We are tired and disoriented by what is happening around us and we cannot find the direction for our journey. We do not find a star that guides us.
It is not just a sociological fact, it is rather an existential phenomenon, a “psychology of the enemy” that fatally turns into ideology, begetting an aggressive lifestyle, a conflicting way of placing oneself before others, with no hope for the future. From house doors to states’ borders, all is closed, in fear and mistrust, in exclusion and war. We all feel excluded, blocked, separated.
Christmas, however, tells of a joy and a peace that come if we will have the good will to open doors; if we will share the good will of God which opens instead of closing, gives instead of taking, forgives instead of avenging oneself. We can move from the ideology of the enemy to the logic of brotherhood, moved by a God who had faith in man even before we trusted in him. If God had no fear or contempt for man (non horruisti Virginis uterum, “you were not afraid to make yourself a man”, sings an ancient hymn of the Church), we too can learn the courageous trust that opens to the other the doors of dialogue and encounter. Salvation and peace, encounter and concord are, in fact, a grace to ask from Him Who, on this holy night, we precisely acclaim Prince of Peace. But they become authentic and real if accepted and carried out by hands and hearts that are open and, courageously and generously, set upon a new way of thinking, new behaviors, new projects, as brave and generous as Christ was when he came to share our life by giving us His.
In this land of our and in this world of ours, where many speak of peace and life but few decide to cross the threshold of commitment and decision, Christmas repeats the invitation to open the doors to Christ who wants make Himself known, and to man. Through the rites and prayers of this holy night, the Father, in Christ His Son, comes again to meet man and ask him: where are you? (cf. Gen 3:9) and to invite him to enter into the house of brotherhood.
Will we cross the threshold? It is not in effect a slogan. It is an invitation addressed to man and to society, to politics and to economics, to the poor and the powerful of this world: will we come out of our enclosures, will we open the door of our judgments and prejudices and will we go to meet Him, who calls us? Will we go to Bethlehem to begin a new journey or will we be closed in our palaces to protect our power, to defend our interests, ready even to exclude the other while maintaining our positions? Keeping our gaze on the Holy Child, will we know how to give an answer to the thirst for justice and dignity, to the desire for love and brotherhood, to the need of encounter or will we put our trust in our short-term political or military strategies?
Will we have the courage to let ourselves be provoked by the Holy Child, setting aside special interests, and to look at the other as a brother, in the full liberty of the children of God, stripping ourselves of all violence, oppression and arrogance?
The answer is not written in the stars but in our free and responsible choices. And while we look to the Christ Child, open Door of the Father that no rejection can close, trust is renewed and hope is revived and we sing again: In te domine sperávi: non confundar in aeternum, You are our hope: we will not be disappointed!