The following is a fictional story written by Mike Anderson.
I wasn’t there when Jesus was born; he was my older brother—I came along almost two years later. Growing up, I heard the story of his birth over and over again—and then was told not to tell anyone. When I was very little it was awe-inspiring, when I became older…it grew tiresome. The tense part about all the inns being over-crowded, the odd part about shepherds guided there by angels, the surprising part about wise men from the east bearing gifts; it became oft recited family lore—surely embellished over the years, surely changed and adjusted for maximum dramatic effect. But true? Parts of it, undoubtedly, but other parts fairy tale and legend.
Part of the reason the story became tiresome was because Jesus himself became tiresome. It was obvious that father and mother thought him special—not that they actually loved him more, but they definitely looked at him differently from the rest of us. And Jesus seemed to grow into that role. At times he was a wonderful playmate: laughing, running, sling shooting contests, sword-fighting with sticks. He cried when his thumb was inevitably struck—just like the rest of us. But there were other times—when our play crossed a line that father and mother possibly might not have approved—when he would suddenly look at me with the most irritating adult expression on his face.
“James,” he would say, “that would not please father and mother.”
“They don’t have to know,” I would respond.
“If you continue in this direction, I would have to tell them. I’m sorry, but we must honor their desires.”
Then as time went by, he became more serious, and in many ways it appeared he and I had less and less in common. I would sometimes catch him alone, staring off into the hills, totally transported to another place or time, often with a very sad look on his face. One time I remember quite clearly. It was right after his 15th birthday. It was a very starry night—like a million candles on a black cloth, and he was standing outside alone, crying. I asked him what was wrong, and at first he was quiet. Then he rubbed the tears off his cheeks and said,
“Remember that time we came across some Romans crucifying a robber?”
I nodded. “How could I ever forget that?!” I said, disgusted all over again at the memory. He sighed, then continued, “I was just thinking what a horrible way that would be to die.” At the time it struck me as a very strange thing for a 15 year old to be thinking about.
After our father died, Jesus took over his carpentry work to provide for our family. My brothers and I helped some, but he was the one with the most talent and the strongest work ethic. I thought it was just because he was the oldest.
As he grew older, I knew he would soon be taking a wife. I assumed we would help him build a home next to ours so he could continue working in our father’s carpenter shop. But there was always a reason why the time wasn’t right, or why this girl wasn’t the one. One by one, we his siblings married, but he stayed home with our mother.
Not long after this time began what we then called “the madness.” He left suddenly, and traveled south to a place along the Jordan River where a man called John had been preaching and baptizing. We heard that Jesus himself had been baptized, and then he just disappeared. He vanished like Enoch, and no one knew what had happened to him.
He was gone for over a month. Then just as suddenly he reappeared—staggering out of the wilderness, thin as an olive branch. He began preaching repentance and collected a group of followers—simple uneducated men and many women. After years of devotion to our mother and to the carpentry work, it suddenly became unimportant to him. He never put his hands upon wood again, until…until that day.
We tried to talk to him, reason with him; he wouldn’t listen. We brought our mother, to show him how worried she was. It had no affect on him. It angered me that he could be so callous and uncaring.
“What’s happened to you!?” I exploded at him one day. “How can you just abandon your mother, and your father’s work!?”
“I love mother, James,” he said. “And I am doing my Father’s work.”
“But you’re not! That makes no sense!”
“James, come with me and my disciples. Spend some time with us, listen to my teaching. Please.”
I shook my head. “No. You speak like a mad man. As far as I’m concerned you have committed a grave sin by rejecting your family.”
While he lived I never spoke to him again.
A few days after his death I began hearing bizarre rumors that he had come back to life. At first these stories came from a few of his closest disciples, but then the numbers began to increase. Soon dozens of his followers were telling our family that they had seen him, talked to him, and even touched him. That he was alive.
My head was spinning that night as I sat outside my home and tried to understand what was happening. And then I turned and he was sitting next to me. And he smiled, and he spoke my name: “James.”
It still takes my breath away to think of it. How does one go from Jesus the mad man to Jesus the Christ in one day? He was asking a lot, but then he always did. And he still does.
I’ve often asked myself, what if I had somehow been there that night in the stable—witnessed his birth, the star, the shepherds, the wise men? Would I have believed then? And I have to answer, probably not. My stubborn, proud flesh would’ve looked for reasons not to, for things to doubt. Because to believe means to humble myself, to surrender, to call my brother Lord. It took the events following his death to convince me of the truth of the events surrounding his birth. But I was, and I am, convinced.
And so all my letters to other believers now carry this opening: From James, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ...
About the author
Mike Anderson majored in Bible at the University of Northwestern and has been a student of the Bible his whole adult life. He is newly retired and still learning the ropes. At First Evangelical Free Church he teaches 5th grade Sunday school and co-leads a small group. He enjoys biking, reading, writing, and hiking. Mike and his wife Debbie make their home in Lake Elmo and enjoy having all of their kids and grandkids in the Twin Cities area.