There’s a funny thing about Christmas.
Even though only about a third of the world is Christian,
practically the whole world celebrates Christmas.
In North and South America, from coast to coast and pole to pole,
this is a national holiday.
As I mentioned the other day, businesses and entertainment media
may try to repackage it as the “holiday that must not be named,”
even so, everyone knows what that holiday is.
Indeed, even Jews, Muslims and non-believers
keep Christmas in their own way, because they are so often
the ones who volunteer to work on Christmas,
so their Christian friends and coworkers can have the day.
Across Africa and Asia,
the world’s newest Christians are celebrating this day.
Did you know that in Africa,
in China and Korea, and other places in Asia,
the Christian faith is seeing tremendous growth? Despite persecution.
In China, the ruling Communist party tears down churches
and forbids those that remain to show the cross;
they’ve tried to create a puppet church
and they throw you in a concentration camp
if you are faithful to the pope.
And despite all that, year upon year, millions are baptized.
North Korea, the closest place to hell on earth,
recently agreed to let Catholic priests visit from South Korea.
In the land of our Savior’s birth, it’s a sad Christmas,
because so many Christians are being driven out.
And yet, on this night, Holy Mass is being celebrated
in the very place where Jesus was born.
And if you went to Jerusalem this very night,
even though there are very few Christians there,
you would know that today was Christmas Day.
Many of us can remember when communism held sway
from the heart of Europe to the rice paddies of Indochina.
And in that prison of nations,
where fear and darkness reigned so cruelly,
try as they might, they could not kill Christmas.
Just like our corporations and media have done here,
they tried to reinvent it – but everyone knew the truth.
The red star has long since been toppled,
but the star of Bethlehem still shines.
Yes, we know that in many places
where the Gospel was brought long ago,
faith is thin and more and more want the trappings of Christmas,
without the Christ whose day it is.
And yet…despite themselves, they are still celebrating his birthday!
To steal a phrase from a very different context:
you may not be interested in the Christ Child,
but the Christ Child is interested in you.
In a faraway place you may never have heard of –
Brunei, in the islands of Indonesia –
where only 10% of the people are Christian,
the mighty Sultan has decreed: Christmas is illegal!
Only the Christian minority may celebrate it,
and only with his permission, and then, only in private.
No Christmas trees, no Santa hats. They are dangerous!
And he’s right. Christmas is dangerous.
Herod understood it; so did Pilate; so did Caesar,
and all their heirs, down to the present day.
The child born in poverty is destined to reign –
and as we’ve seen, he’s gained a foothold in every corner of the world.
The Sultan is right to be nervous.
It’s fashionable to treat all this as a fable.
A nice story, a story that’s simply too good to be true.
Now, here’s a curious thing. If it’s all a fable, who first told it?
There are those who will tell you,
it was all a plot long ago by the Emperor Constantine and the pope.
But they are wrong.
The story of this King was told centuries before he was ever born.
It was a prophet Micah who said, 700 years before,
That he would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David –
and yet would be, somehow, eternal.
It was Isaiah who foretold his virgin birth;
and that he would save his people from their sins.
And here’s another curious thing.
Do you know what “Bethlehem” means?
It means, “House of Bread.”
In the House of Bread was born the one
who would give his people the Bread of Life;
and where did his mother place him? In a manger – a food bin.
The story is so amazing – the twists and turns so improbable.
He was crucified, that ought to have finished him.
Why would anyone want to follow a defeated and humiliated king?
“He saved others; he cannot save himself,” they mocked him.
Peter and Paul, tax collectors and prostitutes,
such absurd witnesses and leaders!
And yet, if you go to Rome this day,
you can venerate the bones of both Peter and Paul.
And there bones have no business being in Rome, yet they are;
and for just one reason: because they, with others,
saw Jesus rise from the dead,
and so they, in turn, gave their lives rather than deny what they saw!
Now, a bit more than 2,000 years has passed
since that night when the king was born.
And with all the things that are hard to explain
about the Catholic Faith, the hardest may be:
why does the Catholic Church even exist—at all?
Babylon is fallen, the Roman Empire has crumbled,
the winds of time have swept away everything in their path.
And yet, against all odds, the Church Jesus founded still stands.
And the strangest thing of all:
on this day, the world celebrates his birth.
Much of the world doesn’t know why – or exactly what it’s celebrating.
A child was born, in a nowhere place;
Yet now, the whole world can’t help but pause, and notice.
The Light has entered the world, and the world can’t deny it.
Much of our world fights the light, and tries to extinguish it.
Many who belong to Christ neglect his light and ignore his inspiration.
The world is a long way from being filled by his light, and changed by it.
And yet across the ages ring the words of the Apostle John:
“the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
What has brought you here? Many things; many paths.
You and I, with the world, cannot help but be fascinated by this child, and his light.
Pause and behold him. And, more than that, let him behold you!
Let his gaze meet yours. Meet the king that half the world,
without half knowing him, cannot help but pause, on this night, to adore.