Of all the gospels, St. Luke’s gospel gives the most complete account of the birth of Jesus and events leading up to it. Luke also points out the historical importance of his birth, not only for the Jews but for the world itself. He does it by noting at the beginning of his gospel that it was in the days when Caesar Augustus ruled in Rome. Previously, he noted that King Herod the Great ruled in Judea in those days.
Those men were well known to Luke’s first readers. Caesar Augustus brought about an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in the Roman empire. He was considered godlike. Herod the Great ruled with an iron fist in Judea; there were fearful signs of his presence everywhere. People kept out of his way.
The child born in a stable in Bethlehem was more important than them and the great ones who followed them. He brought greater peace than any emperor could bring. He was more powerful and more present than Herod or anyone like him could possibly be.
Luke in his gospel gives an orderly account of Jesus, from his birth to his resurrection, and he also wrote a further account–the Acts of the Apostles– about how his message was spread by his followers from Jerusalem to the great cities of the Roman empire, and finally to Rome itself. His message went out to all the world.
I was thinking of the spread of the gospel as I read the report issued a few days ago from the Pew Research Center about religion throughout the world. There are approximately 6.9 billion people in the world in 2010. There are 2.18 Christians in the world, about a third of the world’s population.
The report notes that since 1910 a great shift has taken place among the religions of the world. 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.
He shot across the sky of time like a meteor. However, you would might expect that history would forget him as it does so many others. But Jesus Christ hasn’t been forgotten. Over two billion people in our world today remember him and follow him.
We believe he’s still present and his promise of peace is still waiting to be fulfilled.
This causes me to wonder at the mystery we celebrate at Christmas when we come to the stable and see the tiny Child.