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

By

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

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU