Historical Jesus not as tender and mild as baby in manger

Images of little baby Jesus have been everywhere these past few weeks. Christmas cards have him sleeping in a manger, so tender and mild and far away. The real kid grew into a man who wasn’t afraid to offend people by telling them how they should live.

He said he came to deal with a hereditary problem – sin, of all things. He described the old-fashioned problem as deeper than DNA alone. He wouldn’t listen to people justifying themselves by saying, “I was raised this way” or “This is who I am.”

Jesus went further and said people who cultivate evil thoughts are guilty of doing evil. In other words, a person’s private world is seen and judged by God. How crazy to people who believe that privacy and personal freedom are the most fundamental values. But I know that many of them are quite fond of the passive baby in the manger. He’s a cutie.

The Galilean didn’t grant special recognition for being nice. Being even really, really nice didn’t make his listeners righteous, which is impermissible strictness for earthlings who think “nice” should be a ticket to eternal bliss in the next world.

Jesus of Nazareth was so demanding he drew the kind of attention that eventually got him killed. A man isn’t OK just because he knows the pastor at church really well, or because the pastor stops in to see him every week.

He taught that God wants all of a person: all the heart, all the soul, all the intellect, all the love.

The only way to explain why the statues and pictures of baby Jesus are so popular is that consumers don’t quite understand how much Jesus stood against the way many people live.

The teachings of Jesus cannot be softened without distortion. He was truly different. He couldn’t have cared less about opinion polls. He said he himself existed before time, which gave him a distinct advantage. He didn’t bother to debate creation or the existence of God. He simply told people what he said God wanted them to know.

He told his followers to watch closely and notice that he came to give his life away voluntarily.

His Sermon on the Mount was incompatible with the popular, vicious political talk done in his name on opposing sides to form a more perfect nation. He spoke of a kingdom that cannot be overthrown and cannot be controlled by politicians, a kingdom unaffected by majority rule. He said the only option was to see things God’s way –- no matter what a president or a priest says.

It’s easy to get sentimental about an infant or toddler snoozing in a stable while the oxen, the sheep and the shepherds look on and an exotic trio drops in with gifts fit for a king.

Things took a sudden turn when the man Jesus began his ministry and started telling nice people and religious people how to please God, and when he began publicly showing interest in people who were considered unclean or unqualified for respect.

After interrogating the three wise men, King Herod had tried to eliminate the baby king by ordering his troops to kill all children 2 years and under in a certain region. The “Christ child” survived and became a central figure in history.

He is probably the only adult known as an infant, and he’s safer to his hearers at that distance because his call to follow his example runs contrary to the kind of freedom humans sometimes prize. Leave him there in the manger, and he’s good for the economy. He won’t bother a thing.

As wonderful as the Christmas season is every year, it’s kind of strange, too.