Christmas is the great feast of the Incarnation of God. More than a celebration of Our Lord’s birthday, it is the day of the year when we recall with special solemnity, and with deep joy, God becoming Man.
For this reason, it is also a feast of the utmost significance for our faith. As lawyers, who focus on rational enquiry, an intellectual belief in the faith is indispensable. Sometimes when one feels as if the reality of religion is far distant from us, meditating on the life and sayings of Jesus can make a great difference. I ask myself: “Could that person have been wrong about God? Could Jesus have made promises which he could not or would not keep?”
Here, I wish to briefly defend the thesis that the most powerful argument for the existence of God is not any of the usual philosophical ones, but rather the historical fact of the Incarnation, the sublime teaching of Our Lord, and how Jesus lived. If St Thomas Aquinas had never formulated his cosmological arguments, or Anselm fashioned his ontological meditation on the self-evidence of God, or if Paley had never written about finding a watch on the heath and so inferring the existence of a watch-maker, the testament of history would still suffice to ground our faith. Philosophers endlessly split hairs over those arguments, arguing in a historical vacuum. But if I wanted to know whether someone had existed, I would look for historical evidence first. Why should God be different?
God is not different in this critical respect, because he entered into history. In fact, the historical considerations achieve fuller and more satisfying results than any philosophical arguments. The eminent philosopher Anthony Flew (d.2010) was converted from atheism to deism by philosophical arguments. However, he specifically eschewed the Christian notion of God. History, on the other hand, reveals to us Jesus of Nazareth, and commencing with the eyewitness testimony, and evidence derived from eye-witnesses, unfolds to us more than an impersonal deist principle, it discloses a personal God who gives meaning to our lives.
If we read the four gospels, the question arises: are they telling the truth, or not? If they are, then what does this mean to us? Do we ever really ponder the significance of the life of Jesus? When Jesus spoke about God, should we believe him or not? This, of course, depends upon what we make of the statements and actions attributed to the Lord in the gospels. There is a subjective element in this study which cannot be avoided. Further, there is the question of the trustworthiness of the gospels themselves. However, for those who query the gospels, or would like to have even more evidence for their reliability, I warmly recommend Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham (2006). I cannot go into all of the arguments as to why we should have confidence in the gospels, but my academic work these days is more and more directed towards showing that, and also, the reliability of the tradition of the Church.
This Christmas, I commend the gospels to you. Read them over this holiday season, and ask yourselves, what does this mean to me? Does this message make a difference to my life? Can I doubt that something quite miraculous appeared in ancient Judaea some two thousand years ago?
May God bless you and your families, Fr Yuhanna Azize