The Lessons of Christmas: Incarnation, Not Enlightenment
Waiting. I have vivid childhood memories of Christmas Eves spent looking under the Christmas tree, curiously trying to figure out what was inside the carefully wrapped boxes. Was it the toy truck I couldn’t stop talking about? Was it the action figure I spotted at the department store that I just knew I “had” to have? Were my parents really listening to me when I passionately expressed my longings?
God’s Old Covenant people eagerly waited for a promised gift. Was God really listening to his people when they passionately expressed their longing for deliverance and redemption? During Christmas we celebrate the end of Israel’s waiting, and the arrival of Jesus Christ, the One whose appearing was so monumental that Western civilization has literally split its division of history around the perceived date of his birth.
Unfortunately, our commercializing culture has obscured the truest meaning of this holiday. Even Christians can be affected. Christmas is a season with deep theological implications. Beyond the joy of celebrating mere family get-togethers, the customary exchange of gifts, the delicious food, or even the vague sense of universal peace with all people based on little more than our common humanity–Christmas pushes further.
Christmas is radical. Christmas reminds us that our God gets his hands dirty. The infinite,personal God of the Bible isn’t a force. He punishes the wicked, but he also reconciles the lost. The invisible, immortal, intangible Word of God took on human flesh. By this in-fleshing, this incarnation, God the Son took on a new mode of existence marked by weakness, vulnerability, and mortality.” Jesus did this, in the words of the Nicene Creed (325 AD), “For us and for our salvation.” The birth of Jesus is by far the greatest announcement humanity has ever received.
Oneism, with its denial of the Creator-creature distinction, cannot be squared with the truth of Christmas. It leaves us forever waiting for a redemption that never finally arrives. Behind the holiday spectacles lie powerful Twoist truths. Embracing these truths moves us away from the cosmic confusion of Oneism, and plants us firmly on the unshakable ground of gospel truth. This is because the drama of Christmas addresses the root of our greatest problem, answers our greatest need, and presents the greatest news imaginable.
Oneism appears in many forms, but they all insist that there is no true distinction between Creator and creature. Enlightenment is not given to us as a gift by from someone or something outside of ourselves. It comes from an awakening to our truest self, an awareness of the inner spark of the divine that runs through all people. Ignorance of self, not estrangement from God, is the great problem to be overcome, according to Oneism.
In sharp contrast, Twoism teaches us that our problem–the problem for which it was necessary for God himself to get involved–is our estrangement from the Creator due to our sin. The very essence of sin reveals the nature of reality. Theologian Millard J. Erickson summarizes biblical imagery for sin as including “missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, iniquity or lack of integrity, rebellion, treachery, perversion, and abomination.” He likewise defines the essence of sin in terms of sensuality, selfishness, and the displacement of God.
The root of human suffering is not ignorance of our inner divinity. When humanity embraced autonomy, the human and divine relationship was broken. War, injustice, racism, sexism, slavery, manipulation, theft, and sex trafficking are all expressions of the sinful, anti-God impulse. Having turned against our Creator, and therefore against one other–those made in the image of the Creator. We are indeed estranged from ourselves, but not because we just haven’t realized that we are divine. We are estranged because we refuse to acknowledge our creaturehood (Rom. 1:21).
Lesson 2: Don’t Look Within, Look to Him
During Christmas we do not lift our gaze to the pinnacle of human spirituality with the hope of finally reaching enlightenment. Christmas is not about good advice. It is good news.
Christmas marks the launching of God’s kingdom and of God’s redemptive deathblow against the powers of sin, sickness, suffering, and Satan. During this time of year, we–like the shepherds of Luke’s Gospel–reflect on the glorious announcement of the arrival of Jesus Christ as king and redeemer. God has come in person. This gospel was the hope of God’s people surrounded by pagan Rome two thousand years ago, and remains the only hope of his people in the re-paganized west today.
So, though we continue to wait, we now wait in hope for the glorious return of the king.