THE THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS

To alter and borrow from a song many of us sang as children, Christmas means different things to different people. For some it is a winter holiday representing time off from work or school; for others it is a time of special parties, decorations, music, and food; and for many it is an occasion of giving and receiving gifts.

I am not a distant relative of the Grinch as I do not oppose time off, parties, decorations, music, food, or giving and receiving gifts. But as enjoyable and fun as all of these are, none are at what I would call the heart of Christmas. The heart of Christmas is the annual commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus. In this post I want to give an overview of what I call “The Theology of Christmas.”

I hope no one is put off by the word theology. If it suggests to you that we will be challenged to think more deeply than we often do, that is exactly what I have in mind. And why shouldn’t we from time to time wrestle with the more profound aspects of our faith? Not everything about Christianity is simple or easily understood.

 In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus called Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about the birth of Jesus. Matthew and Luke both begin with the birth of Jesus. John doesn’t have a birth account, but John 1:1-18 lays out the theology of Christmas with verse 14 being the cornerstone.

In verse one John writes about the Word pointing out that “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is John’s designation for the second person of the Trinity, the one we know as Jesus. Verse 14 is John’s Christmas verse: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The theology of Christmas is that Jesus was and is God. These verses teach what is called the pre-existence of Jesus. Jesus did not come into existence when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. God has always been—he is eternal. And so is Jesus, because he is God.

The theology of Christmas also is that in Jesus, God became human. That’s the point of John’s Christmas verse declaration in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The theological term for this, for God becoming a man, is incarnation. And that is not easy for us to comprehend. But just because it is difficult to comprehend does not mean we don’t believe it.

In the words of Bible commentator Leon Morris, “John is writing about a genuine incarnation.  The Word took upon himself our flesh, with all that that means.  He accepted the limitations that are a part and parcel of human existence.” Jesus became weary and he needed sleep; he became hungry and he became thirsty, he felt both anger, joy, and sorrow; and in the Garden of Gethsemane he was troubled and desired companionship.

Here’s the bottom line of the theology of Christmas: in Jesus, God became a man; yet when he became a man he did not cease being God. He was both God and man.

The theology of Christmas means we have a Savior. That was the message of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 and the message of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 and 11. You and I need a Savior.

The theology of Christmas also means we have a Savior who understands us. Because God became man in Jesus we have a Savior who identifies with us in our needs. The writer of Hebrews makes that clear in Hebrews 2:17 and 18 and again in 4:14-16. Because Jesus understands He wants to and can help us when we are tempted. (I encourage you, if possible, to grab your Bible and read those two passages right now.)

The theology of Christmas is not simple and easily understood; but challenging, deeply profound, and immensely meaningful.

This year enjoy your time off, parties, decorations, music, food, and giving and receiving gifts; but make sure you don’t overlook the heart of Christmas.

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TRADEOFFS AND CHRISTMAS

A lot of us will be exchanging gifts this week, but I don’t think any of us considers his or her gift exchanges tradeoffs. To me, a tradeoff is when you give up something in order to gain something. And if it is a real tradeoff, what you give up is something of value. Christmas is about a huge tradeoff that I will return to in a moment.

I’ve been thinking about this matter of tradeoffs since I left Southern California last week to move to the Texas Panhandle. During that two day drive and the first couple of days after I arrived, I was focused on what I was giving up: familiarity, weather, friends, year round golf on many golf courses, a variety of avenues and opportunities to serve, and all that the greater Los Angeles area has to offer. After 32 years I may have drifted into taking it all for granted and I was miserable.

While my emotions, heart, and mind are not fully resolved yet, I am doing much better today. This is the third major move Jan and I have made in the last 47 years. And in the days, weeks, and months ahead I am confident what I will gain in this tradeoff will more than match what I gained in my previous two similar moves. Our daughter said something over the weekend that got my attention. She reminded me that after Christmas this year, unlike the last few, I won’t have to go through the emotional trauma of saying goodbye to my grandsons.

Now back to the huge tradeoff of Christmas. The Apostle Paul clearly lays it out in II Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” What a great image of God becoming a human in the birth of Jesus!

As we come to Christmas this week let’s consider the tradeoff Jesus made. He was rich and became poor so that you and I could become rich. Not rich in terms of money and things, but rich in terms of forgiveness and salvation. The baby Jesus grew and became the man Jesus. And the man Jesus fulfilled the purpose of His coming—that through His poverty you and I might become rich. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Merry Christmas.

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