Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 18, 2000
The improbable story of Jesus
The feast of Christmas helps us realize just how unlikely the story of Jesus is. By any human reasoning, if God would want to save us from the moral squalor in which we live, he surely would have chosen a more direct way.
God surely, by our way of thinking, would have wanted to make his presence unmistakable. He might have chosen to come with thunder and fire, appearing in the form of a 100-foot-tall ethereal being, able to fly to the moon and make himself present in several places at one time. He would have spoken with booming authority so that all would hear and none would be in doubt as to his wishes.
But that's not the story of Jesus. Jesus is born as a baby to a poor virgin and laid in the hay, far from the centres of power and majesty. He is God made flesh, really and truly, not just for the sake of appearances. Are we to believe this is the almighty, omnipresent God who created the universe? Does this not stretch credibility too far?
The great God grows to be a teacher. But his teaching is not "my way or the highway." Rather, it is "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." Is this really the mind of God? The meek and the poor in spirit were consigned to insignificance in Jesus' day and they remain so today.
This adult Jesus is a miracle worker. But his miracles were not performed to create a sensation or curry favour with the powerful. Just the opposite. Often Jesus asks the beneficiaries of his miracles to tell no one.
Many expected the Messiah to become a political ruler and establish justice and right order. But Jesus didn't do that. Nor have his followers been particularly successful in that regard. Instead the Son of Man had no place to lay his head and his Apostles were notably apolitical.
Then there was the question of his death. Jesus died a most humiliating death, convicted by the leaders of the Temple for blaspheming against God, and spat upon and executed on a garbage dump as a common criminal by the Roman authorities. His executioners mockingly urged him to save himself. He didn't. If any man died in failure, it was Jesus.
But then Jesus enjoyed his greatest triumph - his resurrection from the dead. Here, surely, was the opportunity for him to prove his power and divinity. Instead, Jesus ignored the authorities, headed for Galilee and made his power even less public than it was before his death. Even his closest followers were unsure whom he was when they came into his presence.
Yet this Jesus split history in two. He split it to the extent that we number our calendar from the time of his birth. He split it also because now everyone must make a choice - for Jesus or against Jesus. In spades was the prophecy of Simeon fulfilled: "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed" (Luke 2:34).
The choice is ours: We can be for Jesus or we can be against him. Those who are lukewarm he said he would spit out. But if we accept this improbable story - that the child born in a stable, crucified at Golgotha and risen from the dead is actually the Son of God - then we can look forward to a glorious future.
In this world, the glorious future consists of being poor in spirit, meek and persecuted for righteousness' sake - not an appealing prospect. But even in that we can rejoice because we know it is the way of God. However, the sufferings of this life are a mere irritant next to the incomparable joy of eternity with God. That everlasting home not made by human hands is what really counts.
The Christmas story forces me to choose whether I want life or not. It's an improbable story of God becoming human. But if it's a true story then it's the most important story we will ever hear.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.