“The birth of Jesus is the demonstration that God placed Himself once and for all on the side of mankind,” Pope Francis told his general audience on December 18.

Because of the Incarnation, the Pope said, “earth is no longer merely a ‘vale of tears’ but rather the place where God Himself has pitched his tent.”

The arrival of the Messiah is astonishing, the Pope said, because it “did not take place in an ideal, idyllic world, but rather in this real world, characterized by good and bad things, marked by divisions, evil, poverty, abuse of power, and wars.” With the Nativity, Pope Francis continued, God “shows Himself to be not one who remains on high and dominates the universe, but rather He Who bows down.” Jesus, he said, is truly “God-with-us.”

The December 18 audience was the last weekly public audience of 2013 for Pope Francis. He will, however, greet the public next Wednesday—Christmas Day—to deliver his Urbi et Orbi message.

The pontifical household announced that for the 30 general audiences that Pope Francis has held since his election, there have been 1,548,500 entry tickets distributed. The crowds for papal audiences have, on a number of occasions, exceeded the capacity of St. Peter’s Square, and forced Vatican officials to set up video screens to allow people to see the Pope, and hear his words, from the streets outside the Vatican.

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