Sad word comes from Paris that for the first time in two centuries, there will be no mass at Notre Dame, the magnificent Cathedral wrecked by fire, on Christmas Eve. Why this is news escapes me. It’s not like God actually lives there, or Jesus either. In fact if my memories of Paris serve (and it has been a while since I have been there) it’s more likely you would find the baby Jesus out in one of those ghastly suburbs where the Arabs and lots of poor people live. Those are the kinds of people he associated with in his time, along with the whores and bums and no goods so abundantly common in his time. I know it sounds like a judgement, but we keep looking in exactly the wrong place when we look for Jesus. TV preachers claim to conjure him on command, like they have some special avenue to the other world. They put themselves in what they believe is a scared light and just bathe in it while the cameras watch and telecast their sacred blessings all over God’s creation. Send money, or course because TV production like that is expensive and we need it to spread the word of God. I know that sounds cynical. Guilty. I am a cynic when it comes to religion. Not about Jesus. Not about the stories around him. But about the industry built around him. It is a robust place to play, I have found. Because of that, it draws and liars and thieves. And also some very good people. Even now, some honest people are undoubtedly writing checks to churches with the thought they are doing God’s work. Good for them. The intention is important. Does it bring them closer to where Jesus lives? I don’t think so. It brings them closer to the institution, the individual church they attend. But what is that? I don’t have an answer for that question. A few months ago, I was in the hospital struggling against a brain infection that might well have killed me. But it didn’t. Because I come from a family of believers, I am certain they would argue that their prayers were not wasted on my brain infection, that they helped nudge me toward a healthier place. I attribute that to good medicine and expert doctors and nurses and therapists. I saw some of Jesus at the Presbyterian Rehab Center up on the Evanston border, mostly in the kindness of the women who helped me struggle with a broken brain. But I would not argue with my family about God’s influence, because their prayers at least pointed them toward where Jesus lives. It may not have brought me closer to staying alive (my situation was that dire). But it brought them closer to what they believe because they asked him to help me. And I am sure they believe He did. That’s great for them, and perhaps for me, too. But I have never been able to understand why I should get any special attention from Jesus, God, whatever. I have not always been a good person. I have judged people. Picked on them. Abused their trust. Broken promises. I hate that about myself, but it’s the truth. In the wake of my brush with death (not kidding about this) I have resolved firmly to do better from here on out. I don’t know if I will succeed with that.
But I will try.
It’s almost Christmas, the time of year when I get warm feelings about all kinds of things, earthly and spiritual alike. I think I should just settle for that warm feeling. It could be the little sliver of Jesus that lives inside of me warming to his birthday or it could just be my imagination, a fertile place always and eager to engage with every event. I want to think about that for the next year. I do suspect Jesus sits beside all of us a lot more than I could ever imagine. The thought of that is most welcome. So Happy Birthday!