On the final evening of our mission last night at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware we reflected on the basic prayers of the season during a short catechesis and the Infancy narrative from Luke in a longer sermon.
Advent and Christmas are rich with aids to prayer. Let’s reclaim the symbols of the season so they can lead us to reflection and prayer. These days we put lights in the dark, a religious symbol; Jesus said he was the light of the world. The Christmas tree is a symbol of the tree of paradise. Let’s pray in the places where we see them that God bless those places and the people in them. The carols are little catechisms, let’s listen to their message.
So many of our basic prayers from this season are taken from the bible. Let’s link them to the bible narratives they came from. The Our Father is an obvious example. That’s the prayer Jesus not only taught but lived.
The Angelus and the Hail Mary are prayers linked to the great follower of Jesus, Mary his mother. They are drawn from the Annunciation and the Visitation and mystery of the birth of Jesus. The angel not only spoke to Mary but to us as well. Doesn’t the Word made flesh also dwells with us? We have a model for daily prayer in the prayers associated with Mary. Let those prayers teach us how to pray.
The infancy narrative from Luke is our primary reading for Christmas. Keep in mind that Luke sees Jesus as the world’s Savior whose message goes out to the whole world. Luke introduces his narrative with Caesar Augustus, ruler of the Roman world, who unified the world and brought it peace. A providential figure, he facilitated the spread of the good news brought by the Child in the manger. Later in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke relates the growth of the church as it reaches the whole world, even Rome itself.
Luke’s gospel is an optimistic gospel that points to continual growth for the church. Beginning with the poor shepherds on the hillside, Jesus will draw all peoples, all nations, to himself.
Of course, today we wonder about the spread of Christianity as we in the western world experience a decline. A recent survey in England noted that only 59% of the English identified themselves as Christian today. Ten years ago it was 79%. I don’t think our situation in the US is too different.
One British commentator says that we are moving now to time when religion will be embraced by decision and commitment instead of by cultural acceptance.
A survey last year from the Pew Research Center gave some interesting statistics about religion throughout the world. There are approximately 6.9 billion people in the world in 2010. 2.18 billion are Christians, about a third of the world’s population.While Christianity is declining in the western world it’s growing rapidly in Africa and Asian.
The report notes that since 1910 a great shift has taken place among world religions. Instead of being concentrated in Europe, Christianity has grown enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century. “Christianity has become a global religion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.”
A third of the world’s population call themselves Christian. Half of them are Roman Catholic.
Over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, of poor unknown parents. He grew up unrecognized in a small discounted Galilean town called Nazareth. For a few years he taught, he healed people of illnesses, he raised the dead to life, he gathered disciples who followed him. They abandoned him when he was put to death on a cross. Then he rose from the dead.
You would might expect that history would forget him as it does so many others, like Caesar Augustus. But Jesus Christ hasn’t been forgotten. Over two billion people in our world today remember him and follow him.
“Christianity has become a global religion.” Luke’s portrayal of the church is on target.