The Birth of the Rebel, Jesus

The sounds are characteristic of the Season. As soon as the melody of any number of Christmas carols chime, the lyrics fill our minds and once again remind us of the uniqueness of ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ Occasionally a song comes along that we have not heard and we ask, ‘Is this a Christmas song?’ Back in the 1970’s, composer and musician Jackson Browne wrote “The Rebel Jesus” and it appeared on the Chieftans’ Christmas album, “The Bells of Dublin” a decade later. Consider the following stanzas:

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.



Jesus, a rebel? Let’s face it, it is not one of the words we typically use to describe the Person and His work, especially at this time of the Year. Many of our images of Jesus unfortunately have ‘tamed’ or ‘domesticated’ Him into being nothing more than a nice man who looks like one of the Bee Gees and taught people to be nice. (Consider a previous post on the nostalgia of the manger.) We have lost the ‘sting’ that much of His teaching brought to humanity and as such we have refashioned a Jesus Who is comfortable and easy-going. With a refashioned Jesus even the celebration of His Nativity has been re-written. ‘Christmas is (fill in the blank). Christmas is for (fill in the blank).’


The reality is that no other person in recorded history has left such a mark on humanity. His birth, while legitimately celebrated with family, friends, gifts, food and good cheer, is actually a most inconvenient event for humanity. Why is Jesus’ birth an inconvenience? Essentially, His birth challenges the status quo of self-serving entitlement and mediocrity calling us to take a stand as He in fact did throughout His life with and among us.

Biblically, “to rebel” is not always a bad action. In the languages of both Testaments, “to rebel” means “to stand for, to stand with” or “to stand against.” Is this not precisely what Jesus the Rebel did when He walked the Earth? Throughout His ministry, He continuously “stood for” doing His Father’s will. Doing the Father’s will is adoring, worshipping and living in right-relationship with God our Father, each other and all of creation. It is “standing for” the Father’s will in all things, not just the issues or actions I choose. It is “standing for” the right actions that reverences life, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless and consoles the sorrowing, to name only a few (see Matthew 25:31-45 for more on the Corporal Works of Mercy as well as their complement, the Spiritual Works of Mercy). The Rebel Jesus “stands with” His people, never abandoning them in times of difficulty or adversity. The Rebel Jesus ‘runs into’ situations to be with the suffering and sorrowing, not running away to seek individual relief and comfort. The Rebel Jesus most inconveniently “stands against” sin, oppression, selfishness and arrogance expressed in any form that demeans the dignity and sacredness of the human person. The Rebel Jesus challenges structures of society – both civil and religious – when authority is abused to make one’s life comfortable at the expense of another.

In many of his addresses (most especially at Christmas Mass), Pope Francis has exhorted all of us to permit Jesus to find each of us in the encounter He [Jesus] desires. As God, Jesus took on a full, complete human nature in all things but sin so that we in turn may be free from sin and live as sons and daughters of our Loving Father. What a Gift we have been given in His birth, a birth that challenges us to be rebels like Him in standing for His Kingdom and His way of living.

May this Christmas be the moment to act and to stand ‘for, and with’ Jesus; and to act and to stand ‘against’ everything that is not of Him.