The Idler: Christ’s Nativity

Christmas is supposed to be an event for the “PACE Christians”—those who at­tend church for “Palms, Ashes, Christmas, and Easter.” But I learned from John Derbyshire, a columnist at National Review, that he always pre­ferred to attend in midsummer, when half the congregation was away on vacation. In a recent column, he said he had given up on his mild Angli­canism a couple of years ago, and so has now given up on summer church attendance, too. An honest man: He defines a Christian minimally as someone who believes “that Jesus of Nazareth was divine, or part-divine, and that the Resurrection was a real event.” (How Anglican!) He can’t be­lieve that, and so he is gone.

I have had rather the opposite ex­perience over the years, starting from adolescent atheism, then acquiring a couple of core beliefs in my early 20s. Yes, Jesus is divine—I believe I actually met Him on the Hungerford Bridge in London on Thursday, April 15, 1976. And yes, it would fol­low that the Resurrection happened. From there I’ve spread gradually through the rest of the Credo, which I now believe in English and Latin. I passed first in then out of the An­glican Church, arriving figuratively in Rome, by the end of 2003. The reader may allege I am a slow learner. I reply that learning disabilities are endemic to the human race.

“Ask and it will be answered.” This, to my mind, is the hinge of faith. My religious experience—clas­sically Protestant, though only on first view—came in the moment I asked seriously.

Under a growing philosophical suspicion that my disbelief in God was unsustainable—that it didn’t make rational sense in the face of a rational universe—I had become a mild deist. I had also read the Bible, with some attention, because it was literature, and I fancied myself a poet. The more attention I paid, the more I grasped the scale of the claims this Jesus was making. He was either God or a madman. He didn’t leave room for polite third options. “Therefore be perfect.”

In a glib and superficial way, I for­mulated the question in my head, “So, Jesus, if you really exist, why don’t you just show yourself to me?” It was a question that occurred to me many times, over months when I was still trying to assimilate my own defection from atheism to mild deism. At first, the question seemed to answer itself: “Of course Jesus isn’t going to show Himself to me.”

As I vividly recall, I was walking along the south embankment of the Thames, thinking about this question. It had suddenly become crucially im­portant to me whether the gospel was real or just “myth and poetry,” there being no polite third options. I refor­mulated the question something like this: “Jesus, I have to know the answer. I cannot be satisfied with philosophi­cal speculations, or the authority of any church. If you are there, you must show me!”

Immediately upon asking this question—not in a glib and superficial way, but with all the sincerity I could summon—I became bathed in the light of some presence that seemed to exude Love infinitely. I was turn­ing up the stairs onto the pedestrian walkway of that Hungerford Bridge. As I rose up the stairs, this pres­ence spoke—I know not how. And Christ said, “I will cross this bridge with you.”

He left as I came to the north bank, and I briefly glimpsed another figure, standing in the air. “That will be the Holy Spirit,” I can recall explain­ing to myself. “I know that, because it has always been there. I remember it from my earliest childhood.”

The Nativity of Christ comes as a surprise, except in retrospect. Christ is born in one, as if one were a child.

David Warren

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David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

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