By Selwyn Duke
In this maelstrom of crass commercialization and acrimony surrounding the day on which we celebrate your nativity, Jesus, I want to wish you a Happy Birthday.
How remiss we are.
The family of man is a distracted and rancorous lot, and as we scurry to and fro scratching items off our Christmas lists while others try to scratch your Holy Day off calendars, we forget what’s truly important. So my birthday gift to you will be, simply, to thank you for what really matters, all of which has been your gift to us.
First and foremost, Lord, I thank you for your sacrifice, through which you’ve granted us the remission of sin and the promise of eternal salvation. Of course, some of God’s children don’t believe in your divinity. So, I thank you for the heartfelt knowledge that you’ve enjoined us not to convert by the sword but, rather, to try to lovingly understand others’ impediments to faith and hope and pray for their sincere conversion [conversion means turning from oneself to God].
You said, Jesus, that you are “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and I thank you for granting us the grace to understand that Truth exists and we don’t have to wallow in a sea of confusion. I know modern man often denies Truth, since it has become a third rail of modern spirituality. Perhaps it would be more apparent to us if the once revolutionary moral truths you taught and that we embrace weren’t taken for granted. But they have been so seamlessly woven into the fabric of our culture, hearts and minds that they’ve been rendered indistinguishable from the culture. In reality, though, they were seeds that germinated and blossomed, one of whose fruits was Western Civilization. Although, we mortals often get it backwards: we fancy them to be the fruits of Western Civilization.
One of those Truths is central to this season, this season of “Christ’s Mass.” To whit: we should cultivate love, peace and brotherhood. I thank you for this, Jesus, for these qualities weren’t always held in high esteem. In the world you entered, these concepts were as foreign to pagan peoples as their common practice of human sacrifice is to us today. The kinship of all men and peace to the world? The equality of all people in terms of their humanity and the affording of dignity? Sure, perhaps [not always] they wouldn’t murder a member of their family, clan or tribe -- but foreigners? They were fair game. This is why civilizations like the Vikings, just to name one, could pillage towns and murder those who resisted without a pang of conscience.
But Jesus, you spoke of the humanity of all people. You said that your Word was not just for the Jews but also the Gentiles, that it was to be preached to all nations. It was not an inheritance bequeathed to only an elite few, but a great, inexhaustible treasure from which all can draw spiritual currency. You asked, “Who is my mother and my brother?” Then you provided that eternal, ethereal answer, “He who does the will of my Father in Heaven is my mother and my brother.” It was revolutionary, astounding, singular, unprecedented – and distinctly Christian.
I thank you for this because I understand that plundering, rape, murder, enslavement and all other manner and form of abuse of one’s fellow man become infinitely more likely once you’ve dehumanized him. I also know that such tyranny is made more likely still when you reduce others to not just sub-human status, but to material status.
So I thank you for informing me not just of the folly of paganism, but the greater folly of atheism. For, I know that if we are solely the result of an evolution sparked by a cosmic accident, then we are nothing more than a few pounds of chemicals and water; organic robots, if you will. And, of course, what could be wrong with rearranging the wiring of these robots, otherwise known as genetic-engineering? What could be wrong with altering the programming of these robots, otherwise known as social-engineering? So I count myself blessed to be able to look into another person’s eyes and see not just a combination of chemical arrangements, not just an object, an automaton, a thing, but you.
I thank you, Jesus, for teaching and showing us how to be good people, how to live a moral life, through word and example. Cynics say that man created God, but the truth is that God created man and man created gods. And were it not for you, I might be worshiping at the altar of Zeus or Odin or Baal or Quetzalcoatl, and be imitating their vice and answering a call for blood sacrifice. For, before you came, Jesus, man could not imagine perfect, Godly love and virtue because theretofore it had been absent from this world. He could not conceive of it, not any more than a toddler can conceive of the wisdom of Confucius. Therefore, man’s gods were a reflection of himself and were imbued with all his frailties: lust, greed, envy, wrath, sloth, gluttony and pride.
But then the light that is you, Jesus, entered the world. We learned that you don’t want humans to make a sacrifice of others but to make a sacrifice for others, as you sacrificed yourself for us. You showed us firsthand the virtue of picking up your cross and carrying it.
Where people were lustful you spoke of purity of heart. Where people were greedy and wrathful you spoke of charity and forgiveness as you said, “What you do to the least of my children you do to me.” Where man was prideful you spoke of humility. You exposed these deadly sins for the spiritual poison they are, and as the embodiment of their antitheses you demonstrated the beauty of holiness and revealed their ugliness.
I thank you for helping me to slay the dragon of pride with a humility that only knowing you engenders, for, to know you is to be humbled by you. I could look at even the best of my fellow men and find fault, fancy that my sins are of a better brand and haughtily think myself a master of the Universe. But one can look for the worst in you and be sure to not find it, and when I measure myself against your sublime perfection there can be no doubt of my broken humanity.
Lastly, Jesus, I thank you for the spirit of gratitude that knowing thyself breeds. Knowing how I pale in comparison to you purges the feeling of entitlement that so often resides in man’s heart, as your light illuminates the darkness in my soul and reveals my just deserts. But, thank God, I’ll not get what I deserve, for you’ve already paid that price. Rather, I’ll receive redemption, and all of your bounty is just icing on the cake.
The great philosopher G.K. Chesterton said, “Thanks are the highest form of thought.” In this season of Christ’s Mass we can remind ourselves that life looks a lot brighter when we give thanks for our blessings and count our curses among them, knowing that strength develops with resistance. Let’s also remember that the greatest blessing of all is the Son of Man, who divided history and ushered in a new age, and who is the reason for the season. So, Happy Birthday, Jesus, and I thank you. And I wish all my readers a very, very Merry and Blessed Christmas. My pen will see you after the yule log is reduced to embers.