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Cardinal George’s Christmas Homily, 2009

Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In recent weeks, some of us of more mature age have probably been part of a conversation that starts: “What can I get you for Christmas? What would you like?” And the answer often is: “That’s very good of you, but I really don’t need anything.”  Since this is an unsatisfactory answer, of no use to one who would really like to respond to some need, the conversation is often repeated, if not this year then next.  “What can I get you for Christmas?”  I think the answer usually means: “My life is already cluttered in many ways, I have what I need, and one more thing won’t make a difference—but the love with which the question is asked does make a difference, and that’s enough, thanks.” 

Part of the joy in giving gifts to children lies in the fact that gifts can make a difference in their young lives.  Their lives are still open, and a gift brings them something they know they could not have had on their own and with only their own resources; it opens a space and creates new possibilities. A “present” becomes a real gift when it opens a new path, when it draws the recipient into a different experience.  Because children’s lives aren’t so cluttered, because they can still receive gifts, Jesus says that they make good citizens in the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that is pure gift.

Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace.

The angels sing of a gift that gives glory to God and brings peace on earth.  God’s glory is something we can’t give or receive on our own; and Christ’s peace is not ours, it is a peace born of love and not from conquest.  Who then is this Jesus, the Father’s gift to a world that often says, “No thanks, we’re all right on our own?”  At Christmas, our eyes see him as one like us, and that is true; but it doesn’t adequately explain the difference that Jesus makes.  At Christmas, however, faith tell us that he comes from God in the highest; and that is not only true, it makes him uniquely gift.  “The gift, the grace of God has appeared,” St. Paul writes.  And the great eastern Father of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, preached four centuries after St. Paul: “The ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne now lies in a manger.  And He who cannot be touched now lies subject to the hands of men.  He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands.  He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory and total humiliation be the measure of his goodness.”

Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace.

Dear friends in Christ, the mission of the Church in every generation is to introduce the world to its savior.  He is pure gift.  He opens a new path in our sinful lives, he makes space in the midst of our clutter and fills it with peace born of an infinite love.  We might ask: What clutters our lives this Christmas and gets in the way of receiving God’s gift?  The clutter of this Christmas, 2009, includes still an economy based not on gift, not on generosity, but on the exigencies of equations that do not balance because human beings too often figure only secondarily in them.  The clutter includes the challenge of providing adequate health care for everyone without deliberately killing anyone.  The clutter has us struggling to address the world as creation, as gift given us to share and not to exploit.  The clutter has us involved in conflicts at home and wars abroad that defy God’s promise of peace.  To these we can add the clutter of our personal lives and family concerns, and yet…tonight we hear: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace.  In worship here, we join those who first heard this song: the shepherds, the poor, the uncomprehending animals, St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Tonight the gift is ours for the asking.  “What do you want for Christmas?”  If we answer, “Jesus,” he will stretch us; he will, like a good gift, open up new paths and invite us to experiences marked by deep and universal love.  Our hearts will be opened if tonight we hasten to Bethlehem to meet the Lord and listen again to the angels’ song, our song as friends of God in Christ Jesus: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI