Official Christmas Greeting of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land

(Advent/Christmas Message a reflection on Luke 3:15) A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to wonder whether John might be the Christ. The expectation of the Messiah, which includes the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Baptism, the wedding feast of Cana, unfolds for us the eternal expectation of the human heart. Our life of faith is a life of expectation: in our heart we know that the Messiah who was born in Bethlehem is the answer of God to all our expectations. At the same time we also feel that, in spite of our commitments and ideals, our faith remains fragile, and we are as if closed in a cage because of sin. Who can quench our thirst for love, for attention, for a smile, for justice, for dignity, for truth, in other words for all the longings of our heart, for what it expects to find in the other? Faith teaches us to live in hope: time comes for those who know how to wait.

We should let the time of expectation convert us. In our concrete daily life we should offer our dreams and our labours, our courage and our serenity. Indeed, we know that Christ who is born in Bethlehem is God’s answer for us. It is only He who can quench our thirst, our need for meaning. Our sense of incompleteness, our expectation, can only be filled by his sudden entry into our life. We do not need great things in order to wonder in front of this incredible reality. We should not look for this answer in far away places: “It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we can hear and practise it?’ Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, ‘Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we can hear and practise it?’ No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to put into practice” (Dt 30: 12-14). Every time we come to realise this truth we are bound to be filled with wonder.

We should give courage to our doubts anew with this certainty. We should rise above our fatigue. The time of expectation of new heavens and a new earth is the time of our faith, even when we are called to hope against all hope. Indeed we know that God’s faithfulness corresponds to the thirst in our heart. We know that God-with-us is waiting for us in turn. He is waiting for us to find him once more. He is not far from us or out of us, but He dwells in our heart and in the heart of each and every man and woman.

Christ wants to be found also in our Middle East, so thirsty for justice and dignity, for truth and love. Let us not look at the mistaken expectations and searching of modern day Herods, but to the rich expectation of the Magi. Let us not look at the deceptive search of signs and wonders by the Jerusalem sages of all ages, but at the wonder that makes us ready and able to welcome Christ like the shepherds of Bethlehem. Let us not listen to the fears of the world, but to the choirs of angels who announce salvation: “A Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Are we still capable of such wonder? Are we still able to make a humble, docile and vigilant judgment?

Certainly we should be realistic. We will not change the destiny of the world. We will not solve the problems of our Peoples, which are so fractured and divided. No one, however, will be able to hinder us from loving them, by working for the cause of justice in our tiny context. No one can steal from us the dignity that has been given to us. No one can take away from us the love and hope that have been poured into our hearts and that will never let us down (cf. Rm 5:5).
Christmas is a time which calls us to welcome the gift of God in faithful joy, to open our hearts wide to hope, justice and love. This is what Christmas tells us, every year. This year as well, in the turmoil of the dramas that are unfolding all around, let us open ourselves to wonder. Let us present ourselves to God-with-us so that He might find us once more, because He is waiting for us on the threshold of our heart.

Merry Christmas.