A Little Child - December 15, 2014

Christians are a strange lot compared with other religious people. Their two greatest celebrations involve an innocuous birth of a child in a manger, among domestic animals, and the dispiriting and horrific death that that child suffered some 33 years later. That’s it: no great heroics, no kings bowing to his greatness, no impressive victories, no scholars amazed by his knowledge. In all his life, except for one escape as an infant, that young man lived a life wholly within a small area of perhaps 75 miles across in a relatively unknown and inconsequential part of the world. He never wrote a word, except in sand, never roused enormous numbers of followers to fight for his views, never defended himself against lies and cruelties. Just as his birth was isolated and insignificant, his death was just as lonely and just as seemingly unimportant.

This is hardly the stuff of greatness in the typical run of things. Most of us can assume that after death, we will be forgotten in a matter of a generation or two. But this young man had no wife or children to remember him, had no employees to praise his name for decades. In fact, of his dozen principal followers, all but one died early, killed by enemies and presumably forgotten. The other moved far away and lived the life of a hermit. Even many of the nicknames given him are not particularly powerful and awe-inspiring: Ancient of Days, Bread of Life, Comforter, Consolation of Israel, Counsellor, Door of the Sheep, Firstfruits, Lamb of God.

The work to create a religious sect was made after his death, not by him. In life, he constantly bowed to his father as the one whose work was the guide to his life, giving his father all the glory and honor. He asked nothing for himself, even life, and when the time came for him to die, he did so despite his love of life, despite his fears, despite the abandonment he was subjected to, despite the beatings and the ridicule and the cruelties that were inflicted on him.

Although he never backed away from his principles and his calling, he was kind and sweet to friend and foe alike. He loved animals and children, the weak among the strong, and he used their example for others to see and to grow.

Most of his disciples were not learned men, but after his death these men gave up their lives for him, preached the great lessons they learned from him, followed him as models and, for most, as martyrs. They created the most enduring religion in all of history, created out of their hopes. And in dying, they made it possible for him and for us to survive. We use “miracle” too easily in this life, for we too have hopes. But in Christianity the greatest miracle made by men was achieved. How much is owed, how much is given.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“a little child shall lead them”