Christmas. Love changes history

Pope Francis' homily at the Christmas Vigil Mass. St. Peter's Basilica, 24 December 2023.
Pope Francis

“A census of the whole earth” (cf. Lk 2:1). This was the context in which Jesus was born, and the Gospel makes a point of it. The census might have been mentioned in passing, but instead is carefully noted. And in this way a great contrast emerges. While the emperor numbers the world’s inhabitants, God enters it almost surreptitiously. While those who exercise power seek to take their place with the great ones of history, the King of history chooses the way of littleness. None of the powerful take notice of him: only a few shepherds, relegated to the margins of social life.

The census speaks of something else. In the Scriptures, the taking of a census has negative associations. King David, tempted by large numbers and an unhealthy sense of self-sufficiency, sinned gravely by ordering a census of the people. He wanted to know how powerful he was. After some nine months, he knew how many men could wield a sword (cf. 2 Sam 24:1-9). The Lord was angered and the people suffered. On this night, however, Jesus, the “Son of David”, after nine months in Mary’s womb, is born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He does not impose punishment for the census, but humbly allows himself to be registered as one among many. Here we see, not a god of wrath and chastisement, but the God of mercy, who takes flesh and enters the world in weakness, heralded by the announcement: “on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Lk 2:14). Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world (cf. Lk 2:7) [...]

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