Christmas was the central theme of the Pope's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall.
"In these final days of Advent," said the Holy Father, "the liturgy invites us to approach ... the stable in Bethlehem where the extraordinary event that changed the course of history took place: the birth of the Redeemer. On Christmas Eve, we will stand once again before the manger, and contemplate in wonder the 'Word made Flesh.' ... The chosen people awaited the Messiah but imagined him to be a powerful and victorious leader who would free his people from foreign oppression. Yet the Savior was born in silence and in absolute poverty."
"Does mankind in our own time still await the Savior?" the Pope asked. "It appears that many people consider God as foreign to their interests. They have no apparent need of Him, and live as if He did not exist or, worse still, as if He were an 'obstacle' to be removed in order to achieve self-fulfillment. Even among believers ... are those who let themselves be attracted by alluring mirages and distracted by misleading doctrines that propose illusory shortcuts to happiness.
"And yet," he added, "with all their contradictions, their anguish and their dramas - or perhaps precisely because of them - men and women today seek a road of renewal, of salvation, they seek a Savior and await, sometimes without knowing it, ... the coming of Christ, man's only true Redeemer."
"Of course, false prophets continue to propose 'low cost' salvation, which always ends up delivering resounding disillusionment. Indeed, the history of the last 50 years provides an example of this search for a 'low cost' Savior and highlights all the consequent disillusionment."
For this reason, the Pope concluded, Christians must, "with the testimony of their lives, propagate the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to all men and women of good will. Born into poverty in the manger, Jesus came to offer everyone the joy and peace which alone can satisfy the needs of the human soul."
In his Italian-language greetings at the end of the audience, Benedict XVI said: "In a few days it will be Christmas, and I imagine that, in your homes, you are putting the final touches to your nativity scenes, which are such an evocative depiction of Christmas. I hope that this important element, not only of our spirituality but also of our culture and art, may endure as a simple and eloquent way to remember the One Who came 'to dwell among us'."
After the audience, the Pope was awarded the "Prize for Charity" by the "Banca Alimentare," an Italian foundation that organizes, among other initiatives, the National Day of Food Collection. The reason for granting the prize, says a communique released by the foundation, is that since the start of his pontificate, the Holy Father "has sought to present charity - the sincere giving of oneself to others - as a natural dimension of Christian life."
Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., speaking during a meeting between the Vatican Publishing House and other international publishers, highlighted the fact that the award coincides with Benedict XVI's decision to donate part of his copyright earnings to a study center founded by his former theology students.
Zenit has the fulltext of the homily.