Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.
He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.
But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.
He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.
Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.
And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.
This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored....not by carping or enforcing rules...but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.
For me, the most potent aspect of the gospels is not the love of Jesus. Which at times, as written by the evangelists, seems to be an inhuman love. It is the love of those little people who in turn loved Jesus, who ran to him. It is the the hope they had in him. What rose in them when they saw him: Hope for healing, for change, for acknowlegment, for a chance to be made whole, a chance to overcome their shame and claim personhood again. Whenever the gospels tell of Jesus healing someone...he tells them it is their faith that has healed them and set them free.
And when the gospels tell of Jesus and his parables...the hidden story, that no one ever talks about...is that those parables...those words...would not live today without the work of the people who heard them..who kept those words alive by absorbing them and remembering them and repeating them each to each. Jesus, aside from writing with his finger in the sand, never wrote a thing.
At the end of the day...when folks want to put Christ back into Christmas...it is clear to me they mean a creche....or a plastic glow in the dark Jesus with a beard. They want to be able to say "Merry Christmas" on TV.
The Jesus I know is bent over washing the feet of a prostitute. He is visiting a widow. He is feeding the hungry. He has laid his hands on a leper. There are people today who, inspired by that man, will do such things this Christmas day.
At the end of the day...scholars tell us...the Jesus hidden inside the gospels...the real man...the enigma behind the man heralded as the "founder of Christianity"...is actually the source of those words and actions that most grass roots Christians cherish to this day: The Lord's prayer. The beatitudes. The parables. A number of sayings about poverty and wealth and faith and trust. And numerous accounts of healings and encounters with the poor and the outcast.
That, at the end of the day, is all we know of the historical Jesus. That, and the fact that he was killed by the Roman authorities sometime a little less than 2000 years ago.
When that man will return to the forefront of the religion that claims him...is something we are still waiting for. In some ways, he has been there all along in the faith of all those little people who love him to this day and cherish his words and life...but with so much that has been added and accumulated over the years, that it is hard to say what Jesus would make of the religion and churches built in his name.
When folks say they want to put Christ back into Christmas....I wonder what they really mean. Do they mean Jesus? Jesus from Nazareth?
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