For many Americans, this Christmas will be a difficult one. Millions have lost their homes in the past year, millions more have lost their jobs and many of those who are fortunate enough to still own their homes and possess their jobs are deeply in debt. Many families will not be together for the holidays because they can’t afford to travel, they do not wish to be gate-raped or one of their family members is among the 2.3 million who make up the American prison population. It is understandably hard for many Americans to celebrate what has become an increasingly commercial holiday when their prospects for the future look less than rosy.
That is why it is important to remember that Christmas is not about feasts, gifts or even family. It is about the birth of Jesus Christ, in whose name the nations place their hope.
That hope is under attack around the world. In Iraq, Christians are being violently driven out of the lands they have inhabited for more than 1,000 years. In Nigeria, they are being attacked and murdered for their faith, as is also the case in China, North Korea, India and Pakistan. In Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran, Christian pastors are being imprisoned for sharing their faith. Even in nominally Christian America, academics have been denied employment on the sole basis of their Christianity and the New York Times has published high-profile arguments against the right of Christians to hold certain government jobs.
But this is nothing new. The gates of hell have long waged war against the irrational and seemingly unjustifiable hope that men place in the baby who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and they have always failed. When the implacable hatred of the persecutor collides with the unshakeable courage of the martyr, it is always the persecutor who crumbles in the end. The modern Neros and Diocletians will be defeated by the same faith, hope and love that have sustained generation after generation of Christians in the face of criticism, criminal charges and even martyrdom over the years.
For the Christian, Christmas is a reminder of our hope in the face of the fallen world’s ever-present shadow. Evil and despair are not refutations of our faith in Jesus Christ. They merely underline its central importance in our lives. We celebrate Christmas even in the midst of personal troubles and difficult times because we are celebrating the true light that came into the world on that first Christmas day; we are celebrating the light that shines victoriously in the face of the darkness.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Merry Christmas, everyone.