In his Angelus message of Dec. 19, 2004, Pope John Paul II said:
The traditional “Christmas tree” is a very ancient custom which exalts the value of life, as in winter the evergreen becomes a sign of undying life. In general, the tree is decorated and Christmas gifts are placed under it. The symbol is also eloquent from a typically Christian point of view: It reminds us of the “tree of life” (see Genesis 2:9), representation of Christ, God’s supreme gift to humanity.
The message of the Christmas tree, therefore, is that life is “ever green” if one gives: not so much material things, but of oneself: in friendship and sincere affection, and fraternal help and forgiveness, in shared time and reciprocal listening.
Sharing time. It saddens us to be alone, to be unable to share with anyone what moves us. While the thought of being alone truly frightens some people or brings others to melancholy, some of us enjoy our alone time. I use mine to recharge, to reflect, or to discern. We simply must have some time to ourselves and in our world today increasingly have to make ourselves do so. But I don’t become frightened or melancholy because I know I have others to share with afterwards. Many do not.
It saddens them to see other people coming and going, all in their own way. Or to feel that we are cut off from each other, that there are always such different worlds – you in your house and me in my house, you with your thoughts and me with mine. This is simply not the way life is meant to be, this separate life that we all lead. Our hearts are bruised, badly scratched and seemingly held together by duct tape, bandaids or glue. And yet just one single change could provide more joy and good fortune among us, if we could open our hearts and talk while spending time with each other.
Every one of us has a hidden side of ourselves that is in touch with God. We are in a close connection with the eternal truth and love, even if we ourselves are not aware of it. It is written on our hearts and we would hear his words if we would just be still for once, and listen. Without these words we would not suffer so deeply from the need that presses in upon us from the injustice that we must stand by and watch every day. We would not be able to resist so powerfully and become so indignant against the lies and violence that we see dominating this world. We would not have the urge to show love outwardly if it were not for the fact that within us is God’s voice, placed into our heart.
And having listened we would be able to speak those living words, in contrast to all human words, in a clear, intelligible and unambigous fashion. Can you imagine what could happen if we could learn to talk with one another by ceasing to speak about our own separate concerns; if the human would cease putting itself in front of the divine?
What if this Advent we truly emulated the decorated and lighted trees adorning our homes? What if we would take those gifts given to us and placed “under” us, away “in friendship and sincere affection, and fraternal help and forgiveness, in shared time and reciprocal listening”?
We would then, as Quintus Ennius wrote, kindle a light from our own for others. We would never be alone.
Homo qui erranti
Lines by Quintus Ennius (239 – c. 169 BC) translated by Robert Lennon
Homo qui erranti comiter monstrat viam
quasi lumen de sui lumine accendat facit;
nihilo minus ipsi lucet cum illi accenderit.
He who kindly shows the way to the wanderer,
does as if he kindled a light from his own light;
Nothing of his shines less when he kindles it for his friend.