Adapted by Lynn Tuttle Gunney from Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher by Lynn Tuttle Gunney (Skinner House, 2007), available from inSpirit: The UU Book and Gift Shop.
This is the story of Jesus, a beloved teacher. Although he lived long ago, his lessons of love and kindness still bring hope and joy to people all over the world.
Jesus was born more than two thousand years ago in a land now called Israel. He grew up in the town of Nazareth with his parents, Mary and Joseph.
(Luke 2:4-6, 39-40)
Joseph and Mary raised Jesus in the traditions of their Jewish faith. Jesus learned to read the Torah, a sacred book that Jewish people believe was inspired by God. As Jesus and Joseph worked side by side in the carpentry shop, they talked about religion. Jesus felt a strong connection to God. He began to sense that God had called him to bring people a new message of love and forgiveness.
When Jesus grew up, he began to travel to countryside and tell people his ideas about living together in peace and harmony. Soon crowds gathered to hear him preach. People who were sick often came to him, and he helped them feel better. News of Jesus as a healer and teacher spread.
Jesus did not do this work alone. A group of men and women traveled with him. He chose twelve friends, called disciples, to help him teach his ideas to others. Together they walked from village to village, sharing their new ideas with anyone who wanted to listen.
(Luke 8:1-3; Mark 3:13-14)
Jesus said we should love one another because God loves us. Jesus taught that God loves each of us, even when we make mistakes or do wrong.
Jesus often told stories, or parables, to teach people about God. One day he told this parable:
Once there was a shepherd who looked after a flock of one hundred sheep. When the shepherd noticed that one little lamb was missing, he was very upset. Leaving the flock, the shepherd searched high and low from dawn to dusk. When he finally found the lost lamb, he was filled with joy.
This parable helped Jesus explain how God loves and cares for each one of us, just like the shepherd loves and cares for each one of his sheep.
(Luke 15: 3-7)
Mothers and fathers brought their sons and daughters to meet Jesus. At first, the disciples waved them away, worried that the children would bother Jesus. But Jesus gathered the children around him and blessed them. "Let the little children come to me," he said.
Jesus believed we should love one another, even people who aren't our friends. "Treat everyone the way you would like them to treat you," he taught. We call this the Golden Rule.
Jesus taught his followers to look for ways to live together in harmony, to learn to forgive, and to settle arguments in a peaceful way. "Blessed are those who work to bring peace to the world," he said, "for they are children of God."
As he went from village to village, Jesus reached out to help sick people get well and to feed those who were hungry. He treated everyone with the same kindness—women and men, Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor, good and bad.
(Matthew 9:35, 15:32-38; John 4:7-10; Luke 19:1-7; Mark 2:15-17)
By now, Jesus had many followers, and not everyone was happy about that. Some people worried that the crowd might get out of hand and disturb the peace. This would get the leaders in trouble, since they were in charge of keeping the peace in their city.
Once the disciples knew the leaders disapproved of Jesus, they were worried. When they gathered for the Jewish holiday of Passover meal that year, Jesus blessed the bread and wine and gave thanks to God. "May peace be with you," he said to the disciples. Jesus asked them to remember him and his lessons, no matter what happened.
Today that meal is known as the Last Supper. In some churches, people share bread and wine as a way to remember it.
(Luke 22:8, 14, 17, 19-20; John 14:27)
After the Last Supper, things happened fast. Soldiers arrested Jesus, saying he was stirring up trouble. In those days, the worst criminals were punished by being nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. Jesus was punished in this terrible way.
(Mark 14:43, 46; Mark 15:15-29)
As Jesus suffered on the cross, his mother, Mary, and his friends gathered at his side. They knew Jesus had done nothing wrong. They were filled with sadness.
(John 19:25-27; Mark 15:40-41)
After Jesus died, his followers carried on his teaching and honored his memory. Jesus' message of love and kindness spread throughout the world. Years later, people who learned from his followers wrote down what they wanted people to know about Jesus' life and lessons. The best known of these stories later became part of the Christian holy book, the Bible.
Some people said that Jesus was the son of God and started the Christian religion with that belief. Some said that after Jesus died, God resurrected him, or brought him back to life. They celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Many Unitarian Universalists say that Jesus was a wise and beloved teacher, whether or not he was the son of God. They say it is important to remember him because he taught us to treat people with love and to stand up for justice and peace. They believe that now, two thousand years later, we can still learn from the life and lessons of Jesus.
No one knows for sure what day Jesus was born, but many people celebrate his birthday on Christmas Day, December 25. This is a day of joy and generosity spent with family and friends, sharing food, singing songs, and giving gifts.
We can celebrate the life of Jesus on any day, by trying to live as he did, with full hearts, loving words, and kind actions.