Christmas decorations remind us of new life from Christ

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) - The traditional decorations of Christmas are reminders that the light and love of Jesus Christ bring new life to all who wait in darkness, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope spoke about Christmas trees as symbols of new life Dec. 12 when he met a delegation from Austria, which donated the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square, and he spoke about Nativity scenes as reminders of God's love for humanity when he blessed figures of the baby Jesus Dec. 14 before reciting the Angelus.

"Before the Nativity scene, we experience Christian joy, contemplating in the face of the newborn Jesus the face of the God who drew near to us out of love," the pope said during his Angelus address.

The day's reading from St. Paul, he said, called on Christians to rejoice because the Lord is near.

Although the Catholic Church believes in the second coming of Christ, there is no need for "alarmism," he said. "The nearness of God is not a question of space or time, but a question of love: Love is drawing near."

In the special blessing for the Nativity scene figures, which Roman children brought to St. Peter's Square for the occasion, the pope prayed that the figurines would be signs of the presence of Jesus' love in people's homes and families.

"Open our hearts so that we can receive Jesus in joy, that we always can do what he asks of us and that we can see him in all those who need our love," the pope prayed.

In his Dec. 12 meeting with the Austrian pilgrims - including the bishop of Sankt Polten, the governor of Lower Austria and the mayor of Gutenstein - the pope noted that the 120-year-old, 108-foot-tall spruce was the tallest to ever stand in the center of St. Peter's Square.

"In the coming weeks, the Christmas tree will give joy to Romans and to many pilgrims from every part of the world who will come to the Eternal City," the pope said. "I will be able to see it from my window and will enjoy it."

"Its soaring form, its green and the lights on its branches are signs of life," the pope said.

The tree is a reminder that "Christ, the son of God, brings new hope and new splendor to the dark, cold and unredeemed world into which he was born," he said.

In the midst of a rainstorm Dec. 13, hundreds of people joined Vatican officials and the Austrian dignitaries for the tree-lighting ceremony, which ended with the singing of "O Tannebaum."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008