Bishop Lyne, Fr. Ahrens, our honored guests from the Armenian Church this evening, brother priests and deacons, religious women and men, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, friends in the Lord:
Welcome to Holy Name Cathedral: all of you who are gathered here, and all of you connected to us by the medium of television. 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 sometimes put to us by ourselves: Who rules the world? Who really rules the world?
Our quick response might include presidents and other governmental figures, people of wealth, 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. In every case those who rule the world as we search for them are powerful people. Those are the people we look for when we try to answer that question, Who rules the world?
Well, all that is in some sense obviously true, it’s also true–Isn’t it?–that the world often isn’t very well ruled. The world opened up to us by Holy Scripture tonight is a world ruled by a Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. He ordered a census, and so two of his subjects, Joseph and Mary, are on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, their ancestral town.
But Bethlehem is a 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.
But hundreds of year before, as was proclaimed in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God had given hope to Israel in exile, hope 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 King David and his descendents, 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. So what was going on? Evidently, a new Lord was now here. God Himself was coming to his people and was claiming the world he had created 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, takes on our feeble and fallen nature–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 in the creche here, and in our parish churches, and sometimes in your home, the face of God in human form is that of a humble and defenseless child: not powerful at all.
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, two thousand years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, why are all 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, His mother and ours. She 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 with power, but they do transform.
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 the world that He rules.
And because Christ is born, we can conquer. We can conquer the habits of sin that separate us from Him and from 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. That is our hope fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.
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 is, we all know, 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.
And when we see how the very humility of His earthy 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 ever attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcasts. They are first citizens of God’s Kingdom, without pretense or power, they have only God to protect them, and God expects us to do that work for Him.
O come, let us adore Him.
“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 gentle power of Christ’s truth and love take possession of our lives in this Eucharistic celebration, may we become like King David and many 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.
And may the joy of God’s rule permeate your lives tonight, and in the days to come transform our society.
© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved