The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.’ Matthew 1:23
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Christmas is a very important date in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Celebrated by millions of Christians worldwide, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most recognized events in human history. Though obviously holding tremendous significance, the contemporary understanding of this occasion has often hidden the most important and compelling point of the entire event. Modern human experience and explanation has seemed to guide our collective understanding of the narrative, thereby giving us only a partial, one-sided perspective.
Emphasis has long been given to the ‘baby’ Jesus, “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”1 Cute and innocent. We automatically gravitate to such an image, identifying with it easily enough, as it partially reflects and personifies the universal human experience of childbirth. While it is by no means incorrect to think in such terms, for Jesus was certainly born in the context described in Luke’s account, allowing these baby images to dominate ones thinking, at the expense of a more developed understanding, can have a blurring effect on one’s awareness of the primary significance of the Christmas story.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in chapter two provides us with a window through which we can witness the beginning of the “…good news of great joy that will be for all people.”2 This “good news” is illustrated clearly in the first passage written above. Here, Matthew records Joseph’s dream, highlighting the angelic announcement that the child soon to be born of Mary’s womb would ultimately fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy revealing that the infant would in fact be “God with us.”3 This obviously propels us beyond the traditional understanding of Jesus as a mere ‘baby’, and demands us to see the event for what it truly was—an incarnation.
Incarnational theology has as its dominant premise what it calls the hypostatic or personal union of Jesus’ divine and human natures. This term refers to the point in time when the eternal Son of God took upon Himself a complete human nature and became man. Existing from all eternity as the Word of God, John’s gospel reveals that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”4 Therefore, while we must continue to appreciate the traditional Christmas emphasis of Jesus as ‘baby’, we must likewise capture the essence of what transpired–God, in Christ, became human.
God the Son entered the human situation as a complete human being, uniting the fullness of divinity with the fullness of humanity in one person. The divinity in no way merely possessing humanity, and humanity in no way merely indwelt by deity, but two natures in one person–one eternal and divine, the other human and generated in time.5
In order to truly grasp the meaning of Christmas, one must move beyond the category of Jesus as the cute and cuddly baby in a manger and begin to more fully comprehend the significance of the event as it was meant to be understood. That is, as a Divine-human event where God the Son entered the world as a complete human being, taking upon Himself everything that it means to be human, while maintaining the fullness of His deity. Then, and only then, will we begin to appreciate Jesus as Immanuel–God with us–and discover the true significance of Christmas.
1 Luke 2:12. All Scripture NIV.
2 Luke 2:10.
3 Isaiah 7:14.
4 John 1:1, 14.
5 John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ our Lord. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969. P 116.
*Published in the November/December 2010 issue of “Good Tidings”
Clarke, Jeffery K. “The Significance of Christmas.” Good Tidings Volume 68 No. 6 (November-December 2010).