Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Christmas homily, 2011

January 1, 2012

Editor’s note: Cardinal George delivered this homily at Holy Name Cathedral, State and Superior.

Welcome to the celebration of the Midnight Mass of Christmas! Together, we pause and pray, we gather and open our hearts to God’s love and the love of our families and friends. We open our hearts, as well, to all those whom God loves, to the world saved by the child whose birth we remember this night.

The celebration of Christmas is a time to ask again a question sometimes put to us by children and even put to us by ourselves: “Who rules the world?” Our quick response might include: presidents and other rulers; people of wealth and people who influence the shaping of public opinion and the public conversation in the media; people in the halls of power in Washington and other capitals or at the United Nations. Those who rule the world are powerful people.

While all that is in some sense obviously true, it’s also true that the world often isn’t very well ruled. The world opened up to us by Scripture tonight is a world ruled by a Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He has ordered a census and so two of his subjects, Joseph and Mary, are on their way to Bethlehem, their ancestral town. But Bethlehem is the city of David, who was a king, a powerful ruler in his day. And Joseph and Mary are of David’s line, his house, a royal family, obviously fallen on hard times, obviously out of power.

Hundreds of years before, as we heard in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God had given hope to Israel in exile that they would return to their homeland and be ruled again by a king of David’s line. The promise was that God would again use David and his descendants, but that God himself would rule not just Israel but the entire world. And then the Gospel reports angels telling shepherds that the “Lord” has been born. For those shepherds and everyone else around the Mediterranean Sea, “Lord” meant Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor. What was going on? Evidently, a new Lord was now here. God himself was coming to his people and was claiming the world as his own. So who rules the world? God! But he has a peculiar way of doing it and an odd way of showing it.

The eternal and almighty God comes to us, becomes one of us, to rule us; but he comes not as a man of power but as a child born of a woman without power and protected only by a man of less than modest means. The eternal Word of God, in whose image and through whose wisdom the whole world was created from nothing, was without a room in which to be born. The face of God in human form is that of a humble and defenseless child. More, he is born into a world ruled by inequity, unfairness and oppression, with divisions of all kinds, generating anger, rancor and envy, a world of warfare and hunger and illness and abandonment and corruption and brutality. Still puzzling over who is really ruling the world, we might ask: “If God is ruling the world now, 2,000 years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, why are these evils still with us?”

When, like the shepherds, we make haste to see him, turning from the normal distractions of our busy lives, we will, in taking these moments to adore him, begin to see that he came to his people so that we can change. Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, who tells us, as she presents us to her Son, that nothing that happens to us is outside of God’s love. Love and truth, even God’s love and truth, do not overwhelm, but they do transform, if given the chance to do so. The tiny baby Jesus is the source of whatever greatness is ours. If he is born in our hearts and our families through faith and love, then we enter into the world that he rules. Because Christ is born, we can conquer the habits of sin that separate us from him and one another. Habits and addictions, whether they are chemical or sexual, or addictions to power or wealth, need not rule our lives. Corruption and manipulation need not dominate our society. Rather, God invites us tonight into a world where we will change, and everything else will change with us, if we cease adoring ourselves and adore the baby in the crib.

It’s a risk to enter into the kingdom of God. It’s a leap of faith to surrender our entire lives to a powerless child and a crucified Lord. But it is a risk to which we can sincerely invite others as we help them see what we are shown tonight: the true Face of God, the ruler of the world, in the Baby of Bethlehem. He respects our freedom, even as he asks us to surrender ourselves to him. When we see how the very humility of his earthly existence is what gives him the power to judge the world, when he shows us how the power of a world that resists God’s grace is a transitory illusion, then we will understand why we are to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. They are the first citizens of God’s kingdom. Without pretense or power, they have only God to protect them.

“O come, let us adore him,” we sang a few minutes ago. The manger in which we adore him tonight is a throne, as is the cross above the altar. We gather at the crib knowing that we will also gather at the cross, for that is how Christ rules the world.

As the power of Christ’s truth and love take possession of our lives in the eucharistic celebration, may we become like King David and others in history whom God has used to rule the world. This Christmas let us enter wholeheartedly into God’s kingdom as disciples of Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord. May the joy of God’s rule permeate your lives tonight and in the days to come transform our society. Merry Christmas.