Dear Brothers and Sisters:
A message of great joy has just been proclaimed in the Christmas Gospel, and it is a great joy for me and all of us to be together this Christmas night, here in the Cathedral, united with all those who are with us through the wonders of televised transmission. Many of you might know that usually, on Christmas day, I have been used to visiting children in the hospital and prisoners in jail, and I can’t do that this year. But I was praying this afternoon for those whom I will not be visiting. As I thought of them and imagined going into the jail, passing through many doors and security devices, it struck me that all the doors the prisoners pass through must be opened from the outside. That’s what being in prison means: someone from the outside has to give you freedom.
We are filled with joy tonight because the door to our freedom has been opened from the outside, opened by a Savior. Without Jesus, we cannot escape from the prison of sin, the jail of our own sins and those of our society. The doors have often been barred to Jesus, at the inn two thousand years ago and today as well. When tonight, with angels, we sing of this child as “Savior,” we confess that we need him so that we can be free. We confess that, small and unassuming as he looks, he is truly God, for only God can forgive sin. When the doors of the stable outside of Bethlehem were opened by shepherds, what they saw was a baby in swaddling clothes, a young mother, and a husband protecting them both. If they understood what they saw, it was because their minds and hearts had been somehow opened from the outside, by the grace of God. It must have been because, poor and insignificant as they were, they were beginning to be set free.
The law of the prison, the ways of an unredeemed world, recognize only victims and their oppressors; and the world’s solution is revenge, sometimes by law, sometimes by fraud and subterfuge, sometimes by violence. The ways of God’s kingdom, the ways of a baby who is meek and humble of heart, recognize martyrs and their persecutors, but the solution is forgiveness. On our own, left to our own devices, we die alone; with God, we are never alone, even when we are in prison. Hope is not born of self-righteousness and the manipulation of others; hope is born with a child who tells us that the truth about God and about ourselves is what sets us free.
The truth about Jesus we will recite together in a few moments: God from God, light from light, true God from true God; incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. False stories about Jesus, and there are always many, set no one free. The truth about Jesus tells us who we are as the Father’s beloved sons and daughters in Christ. Because Jesus truly is God and truly one of us, it is safe to love. We need not scheme to open the door, save to buy our freedom, plot to get our way. Rather, secure in the truth about who Christ is and able to experience his love in so many ways tonight, we can trust him to open the doors of our heart, of our homes, of our neighborhoods, of our schools and public spaces, of factories and stock exchanges, of our world still looking for freedom all too in all the wrong places.
If tonight our hearts are joyful, it is a sign that the door has been opened, that we join the shepherds in recognizing Christ and have begun to love. We have allowed children, the poor, the stranger to unlock and open the door to our time, to our minds and hearts, to our lives. God loves us, one by one and as the human family, whose life he now shares and whose destiny he has opened to infinite love. Love brings joy. It doesn’t need to have everything nailed securely shut, to pin everything down, to shrink our lives to what we can control.
God’s gift to us tonight is the joy of knowing and loving our savior, Christ the Lord. This gift cannot be co-opted by any ideology or movement or personal ambition. It is not for us to tell God what we think he should have done nor to abuse the gift of his creation. It is not for us to rearrange the stable or change the song of the angels. It is for us to have courage to open the door, to kneel and worship. Because Christ is born into this world, it need not be a prison. It should be a home for all those whom God loves and Christ died to save. The door is open now. Welcome home in this church and in God’s world. A blessed Christmas to all of you.
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago