I was talking to some little children the other day, and one little boy said “My sisters do not believe in Jesus”.
When I hear people say this, rather like when I hear people say they do not believe in God, I always ask them what exactly they do not believe in. Many people who SAY they do not believe in Jesus are actually talking about a fairy story they were taught as children, rather than the real Jesus, the real human being, who is most definitely part of human history. Some people may deny that Jesus is God, but no sensible person can deny that there really was a person called Jesus born as a baby about 2000 years ago.
My journey into being a Christian began when I realized this truth, that Jesus was real. I wasn’t sure about God, but I recognized that this figure from history had some vitally important things to say to us humans about what life is really about. He has indeed, as we heard from our 1st Reading from Isaiah (52:7-10) brought “Good news”. But some of that news is rather startling, because he taught us that God is not a distant power up in the sky somewhere, but a force for goodness and love that we can find deep within ourselves. He called that presence of God, God’s kingdom, and he said “The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21)
Taking that mystery of God amongst us into our lives and our thoughts is what Christmas is all about. Our 2nd Reading from Hebrews tells us that God had been present in various times even before Jesus was born, but that the fullest and most complete way in which God is present is in Jesus himself. But we have to be very careful here. It is easy to begin to think that if Jesus is God then he is not like us, that he is not a real man, but some kind of superman. That’s why the story of the birth of Jesus is so important. Jesus doesn’t fly into the world as if from another place, as the ancient pagans thought their gods did. No. The Christian message is quite different. Jesus is just another human baby, born to just another human mother, and unlike the pagan gods, could just as easily have died as a baby, if King Herod and his soldiers had managed to find him.
This idea that God could decide to be a real human who could die, is actually really hard to understand. We easily forget at Christmas to make the link with the death of Jesus on Good Friday, or if we do make that link, we somehow think that Jesus could not possibly die, until he decided to. But that is not the story we have from the Bible; that is not the tiny baby the shepherds were told to go and see. This was a real baby. “Wrapped in swaddling clothes” means he had a nappy like any other baby – and you know what that means! “Lying in a manger” means that he was just like many other babies that the shepherds knew about in their lives, where the stable was just the far end of the main and only living room, and the manger with soft hay was the safest place to lay a little baby down to sleep.
So when people say to me that they do not believe in Jesus, they usually mean, when questioned, that they do not believe in Jesus as some kind of magic baby who wasn’t really human. And I tell them, that I don’t believe in that kind of Jesus either, because if Jesus was like that he wouldn’t be worth believing in. This is the great problem, that we humans want to set God at a distance from us and not accept the Good news that Jesus brings. More on how I moved from Jesus to being a full-blown Christian and later a Catholic priest in my book. Look for me via Amazon on Kindle.
Think about it. Even the disciples end up like that. Remember how Peter tells Jesus off for washing their feet like a servant, or predicting his suffering and death. “Oh No Lord” he says, “This is not right. If you are God, you cannot possibly be a servant to others, and you certainly cannot die.” But Jesus says that he comes : “Not to be served but to serve and to give (his) life as a ransom for many.”(Matt 20:28)
So we celebrate today the birth of the real Jesus, and as we do so, we are reminded that if we want to be close to God, we must be close to him, we must allow him into our lives, and we must strive to love as he loved us however hard that may be.