The Real Meaning of Christmas

 

When people try to ‘put Christ back in Christmas’ it often means only sentimental tales or moralizing. It’s a tiring season but nevertheless I want you to work your minds and chew on some theology, because this is what the feast is all about. Otherwise His birth is no more important than Mohammed’s. The basic preposterous claims made by Christians are these two. (If you don’t understand that these are preposterous except from a Christian perspective you don’t realize what is being said.)

I.    THIS CHILD IS GOD. Everything that we would say about God, we say about this child. We say that no one made Him, that He has always existed and will always exist, that He can never change, that He cannot die, that He knows all things, that He is the Creator of all things and their judge. He is the Word, the Law, the order that holds the universe in existence. One reason He was conceived by a Virgin is that in a normal human conception a new person comes into being. but He is not a new person. He is the same person of the Word of God which created the heavens and the earth. He is the Word which spoke to Moses from the burning bush and on Mount Sinai. (cf 1 Cor. 10:6).

 

But He is not the Father, and the Father is not the Son. The Council of Nicaea (325) expressed it by saying that He is of the same essence (omoousios) with the Father. That is, He is the same kind of being that the Father is, but not the same individual person. He has always been with the Father; there was a never a time when He did not exist. It is the Father’s pleasure always to share with the Son to be everything that the Father is, and it is the Son’s pleasure always to obey and submit to the Father.

II.   THIS GOD IS HUMAN. God. who is by nature invisible. indescribable, without location or limits or time, immortal and unchangeable, has accepted to be visible, describable, located, limited, to have an ‘hour’, to grow, to change. to learn, and to die. The marvel is not that he is in a manger. but that He is any place. Everything we would say about a human being, we say about this man, with one exception. We say that he has a real human body, soul, mind, and feelings. The Sixth Ecumenical Council (68]) affirmed that He has a real human will, in addition to the Divine Will. (cf Matthew 26:39). The Council of Ephesus (430) affirmed that Mary must be called Theotokos (Mother of God) because the child she bore is truly God. not just a human baby who later was indwelt by God (cf Luke 1:41-44). And she is truly His mother; He takes His human nature, his ‘genetic 0001’ from her just as any child does from its parents. As the Fathers put it, He did not ‘pass through her like water through a tube.’ He learns and experiences from her what any child must experience from its mother. so He is truly ‘kin’ to us and shares the life we live. The Council of Chalcedon (451) expressed this mystery by saying that He is the union of two natures (God and man) in one person or individual:

 

.the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood ... of one essence with the Father with respect to the Godhead, and of one essence with us with respect to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before the ages of the Father with respect to the Godhead. and in these latter days, for us and our salvation. born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, with respect to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, in two natures, without confusion, without division, without change, without separation, the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and individual ...

The one exception, the one human trait we do not attribute to Christ is sin, although ‘He was in every way tempted as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15) Yet in a mysterious way He even accepts the consequences of sin (death) in order to win victory over them for us.

Furthermore, Christ has not ceased to be human now that He no longer physically walks the earth. If so, His humanity would never have been real, for humanity is not something we can lay aside. This is part of the meaning of His bodily Ascension; redeemed human nature reigns in heaven with the Father. (cf Hebrews 4:14, Ephesians 2:6).

As I said, to say these things is preposterous: we cannot understand how it can be. I do not try to explain it. I urge you to affirm it in awe, and to accept no ‘explanations’ of it which in fact deny the mystery, such as that He is ‘God acting as a man’ or ‘a man God dwelt in’ or ‘part God and part man.’ St. Gregory the Theologian (4th century) says that He ‘assumed’ (accepted as his own) everything that belongs to human nature in order to heal it. to restore it to His Father. So, says St. Gregory, ‘that which is not assumed is not healed’; if anyone says, for example, that He lacks a real human soul, the human soul is not healed. Christ cannot be the mediator between God and man if He is not truly God and truly man, and we just have another religion of human wisdom. This is the ‘real meaning of Christmas’; don’t settle for anything less.

©1987, Fr. Paul Yerger