We know that the celebration of 25th December was imported from Roman paganism and from the cult of Mithras.
We know that in northern European traditions the celebration of Yule, at or around the winter solstice, long pre-dates Christianity.
But no one knows, for certain, exactly when Jesus was born.
No one really knows what the full circumstances of his birth were.
It seems clear that the idea that he was born of a physical virgin, by means other than natural insemination, is a mythological accretion, inserted by later gospel writers to highlight the status of Jesus, without pretending to be a record of actual events.
Those who believe that Jesus was a man – a natural man – who was a prophet, teacher and messiah, but not a God or a demigod, cannot sing those songs about ‘clothed in flesh the godhead see’ without at least a bit of wincing.
And yet, we do celebrate Christmas, as the date on which the church collectively and traditionally celebrates the birth of Jesus, the anointed one, the Saviour.
So what do we think about this remarkable, mysterious man, whom we do not worship as a God, but do try to follow – through the help of the holy spirit – as lord, master and teacher?
Obviously, views vary, but the following, from the Hungarian Unitarian Catechism, is generally representative of how Unitarian Christians think about Jesus.
From the Hungarian Unitarian Catechism:
57. What do we mean by “I believe in Jesus”?
When we say, I believe in Jesus, we express our conviction that Jesus is the greatest child and prophet of God, and his teaching is the surest way by which we can come to a real knowledge of God.
58. How do we know about Jesus?
We know about Jesus through the New Testament: from the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, where the history of his life and his teachings are written.
59. What do we know about the birth of Jesus?
Jesus was born during the rule of the Roman Emperor Augustus Octavius. His father was Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, his mother, Mary. His brothers: James, Joses, Judas and Simon. The Gospels did not mention the names of his sisters. Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents, sisters and brothers.
Mark 6,3: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offence at him.
60. How did danger threaten Jesus in his infancy?
According to the gospel narrative, Herod the King of the Jews wanted to kill Jesus when he was a baby.
61. How did Jesus escape from this danger?
Jesus escaped from this danger because his parents carried him to Egypt and they returned from there to Nazareth after the death of Herod.
62. What do we know about Jesus’ childhood?
When Jesus was 12, on occasion of the holidays, he went into the temple of Jerusalem with his parents. His clear mind excelled while talking there with the Elders. At his parents home he was an obedient and good child, growing up in body and spirit, in wisdom and in kindness toward God and people.
63. How old was Jesus when he began to teach?
Jesus began to teach at 30 years of age. Before he began to teach, John the Baptist baptized him.
64. What is the purpose of Jesus’ teachings?
The purpose of Jesus’ teachings is to acquaint us with the laws of God and thereby to deliver us from ignorance, sin and from the fear of death.
65. How does Jesus deliver us from ignorance?
Jesus deliver us from ignorance through his teaching and his example, which acquaints us with God, our duties and our callings.
66. How does Jesus deliver us from sin?
Jesus deliver us from sin by revealing what is sin and how one can avoid it. With the example of his life set before us, which we endeavor to follow, we escape more and more from sin.
67. How does Jesus deliver us from the fear of death?
Jesus delivers us from the fear of death by strengthening our faith in the fatherly love of God and in eternal life.
68. What do we call this activity of Jesus?
This activity of Jesus, by which he takes on the heavy charge of our spiritual life, we call deliverance. In that sense we believe that he is our deliverer.
69. Which is the greatest law of religion according to Jesus?
The greatest law of religion is summarized in the Great Commandments of love, which are as follows: “The first of all commandments: the Lord, our God, the Lord is one: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength, The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
See Mark 12,29-31
Jesus expressed the truth of moral-religious life in his Sermon on the Mount and in his parables.
The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is as follows:
Who are blessed? Matthew 5,3-13
The calling of the disciples: Matthew 5,13-17
The old and the new law: Matthew 5,17-48
Hypocrisy is the biggest sin: Matthew 6,1-23
The subject of our love can be only one: Matthew 6,24-34
In our decisions involving others we must be gentle and toward ourselves very rigorous: Matthew 7,1-14
The fruit of true religion is the act: Matthew 7,15-29
The most beautiful stories and parables of Jesus:
The seedsower: Mark 4,1-20
The Mustardseed, the Leaven and the Seed upon the Ground: Mark 4,26-33
The Good Samaritan: Luke 10,25-37
The Prodigal Son: Luke 15,11-32
The Talents: Matthew 25,14-30
The Woman of Samaria: John 4,1-42
The Children: Mark 10,13-16
The Pharisees and the Tax Collector: Luke 18,9-14
The Rich Young Man: Mark 10,17-31
Zacheus: Luke 19,1-10
The Woman taken in Adultery: John 8,3-11
Mary and Martha: Luke 10,38-42
The Rich man and Lazarus: Luke 16,19-31
The Foolish Rich Man: &The Great Supper: Luke 14,15-24
Nikodemus: John 3,1-21
The Bad Servant: Matthew 18,21-35
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin: Luke 15,3-10
70. How do we summarize the teaching of Jesus?
We summarize the teaching of Jesus as follows:
God is one and is Spirit: God is our providential Father.
We are children of God and brothers and sisters to each other.
Our most important duty: to love God, to love our neighbors and to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
In fulfillment of our duties we shall listen to the voice of our conscience, we shall always choose good, truth and beauty, and we shall be loyal to these.
If we life in that way, our reward will be a restful heart, peace among us and the joy of eternal life.
71. Do we also call Jesus God?
We do not call Jesus God, because we know that he was in reality a man.
72. From what sources are we informed that Jesus was a real man?
We know that Jesus was a real man from the Gospels, where he first called himself a man and the son of man. But his real humanity is verified by his whole life as well: he was born, grew up in body and spirit, was happy, sorrowful, hungry, thirsty, suffered and died.
Jesus was considered to be a man by his disciples and his contemporaries as well.
73. How did Jesus differ from the other people?
Jesus differ from other people in that he lived according to the laws of God and all of his actions agreed with the will of his providential Father, so that he became for us “the way, the truth and the life”.
74. What steps did Jesus take to spread his teachings?
Early in the beginning, Jesus gathered twelve men around him whom we call his disciples. With them he walked throughout the country, teaching everywhere, doing good for the poor, restoring health to the sick and through these means, preparing his disciples to spread his teachings.
His disciples were fishermen, tax collectors and poor people. Jesus’ choice demonstrate that he knew people very well.
The names of the disciples:
Peter was the first, who was followed by Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartolomew and Thomas, Matthew, James, Simon, Thaddeus and Judas. These are the names in the order of the Holy Scripture.
75. Who were Jesus’ enemies?
Jesus’ enemies were those who feared for their power and material interests if the kingdom of God should spread and for that reason they slandered and persecuted him.
76. Did the attitude of Jesus’ enemies discourage him?
The attitude of Jesus’ enemies did not discourage him: Jesus trusted in God and in the truth of his teaching. And those who are founded upon these can never despair.
Isaiah 40,31: …but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
77. What did Jesus do in the face of pressure and suffering?
In the face of pressure and suffering Jesus prayed, and he always obtained new strength and courage to continue his work.
Luke 22,39-42: And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation”. And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and knelt down and prayed. “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but, thine be done.”
78. How must we pray?
We can learn how must we pray from the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father”. Jesus taught that prayer to his disciples as a model, saying: “Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
79. What kind of prayer should prayer be?
Prayer is a spiritual communion and conversation with God. So our prayer must be simple, short and rising from our spirit. In our prayer we must ask more about spiritual needs than about material goods. In that way our prayer will be a clear mirror of trust in God.
Matthew 6,6: But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
80. How many years did Jesus teach?
Jesus taught only three years: as a consequence of betrayal by Judas, his enemies captured him, he was judged by Pilate and crucified.
81. What was the manner of Jesus’ death?
Jesus’ death – as well as his life – was the manifestation of his love toward God and people. On the cross he prayed for his enemies as well, he asked God to forgive them and then he commended his soul to his providential Father.
Luke 23,34: And Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”. And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Luke 23,46: Then Jesus, crying with a laud voice, said: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
82. What happened after Jesus’ death?
After Jesus’ death, his loyal disciples and followers took his body down from the cross and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. His disciples and followers loyally kept the memory of their master and teacher and proclaimed his teachings.
83. How do we remember the more important events of Jesus’ life?
We remember the more important events of Jesus’ life through Holy Days.
84. What are these Holy Days?
These holy days are: Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Holy Thursday and Pentecost.
Christmas is the birth of Jesus, Palm Sunday his last entry into Jerusalem, Good Friday his death, Easter the victory of his ideas, Holy Thursday the awakening of the consciousness of the Disciples, Pentecost the triumph of the spiritual life and the Holy Day of the formation of the Christian Church.
Christmas is always on the 25th of December. The other holidays depend upon Easter. Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. If the full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is on that Sunday. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday. Three days before Easter is Good Friday. 40 days after Easter id Holy Thursday and 10 days after that is Pentecost.
Christmas, Easter and Pentecost we usually celebrate for three consecutive days.
85. Do we have other Holy Days besides these?
In addition to these, other Holy Days are: All Sundays, Thanksgiving, the first day of the new year and 15th of November, which is the Memorial Day of Francis David’s death.
The Holy Day of Thanksgiving is in the last Sunday of September.
86. What does all that we have learned about Jesus requires of us?
All that we have learned about Jesus requires us to love him, to endeavor to know his teachings and to faithfully follow his example.
Matthew 16,24: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”