This is based on an article by Prof Donald MacLeod in The Monthly Record, Jan 1981.
Christmas is ‘that curious amalgam of paganism, commercialism and Christianity which Western civilisation has invented to tide it over the darkest days of winter.’
‘The church…appears content to leave the supreme mystery of its faith only vaguely hinted at in the glitter and gaity of what it calls its greatest festival. Christmas is a lost opportunity, a time when the world invites the Church to speak and she blushes, smiles and mutters a few banalities with which the world is already familiar from its own stock of cliches and nursery rhymes.’
‘What is this Christmas event which everyone hints at but no one talks about?’
The Eternal Word
1. The Word is eternal. His existence did not begin at Bethlehem, nor even at creation. ‘The nativity marks not the beginning of Christ’s existence but the perforation of history by One from eternity.’
2. The Word was Creator. All things were made by him. This means that,
(a) ‘the One who made all things is by definition possessed of awe-inspiring energy and power.’
(b) ‘the creative force, the source of every other form of energy, is not impoersonal, blind, capricious or malevolent, but Christ-like. The creation expresses him and in itself contains no unChristlikeness at all. In that confidence we harness its resources, assured that all of them are at last beneficent, and move over every horizon, expecting to find not black-holes of sterility and absurdity but coherent and fecund expressions of the mind of Christ.’
3. The Word was God. He is Elohim. He possesses all the attributes of God: he is eternal, omniscient, unchanging, omnipresent, omnipotent and holy in his mercy, righteousness and love. He performs all the characteristic functions of deity: creation, preservation, government and final judgment. He enjoys every divine prerogative, being worthy of all honour and glory.
This is the essence of our devotion: ‘The Church is not primarily an evangelistic, preaching community, far less a liturgical, sacramental one. First and foremost it is a community of doxology, of Hallelujahs! and Hosannas! of bowed heads and adoring song.’
Christ of one substance with the Father. Not heteroousios; not homoiousios; but homoousios. He is one with the Father, Jn 10:30. We can tolerate no form of subordinationism.
But also: he was one with God.
Two preliminary points:
(a) ‘John does not in the least suggest that in becoming flesh the Word ceased to be what he was.’
(b) To have become flesh is to be flesh – a salutary reminder that humanness is not simply attached to Christ like a mask or a garment or an artificial limb. It is something which he is and through which he effectively expresses himself.’
‘At the most basic level, the incarnation means that Christ took a true human body, the same in all essential respects as our own. It grew from a zygote to fetus to infant to child to adolescent to man. It had the same chemistry, the same anatomy and the same physiology. It was not an illusion, but real and tangible. The incarnation was not a theophany – the temporary assumption by God of a human appearance. It was a genuine entering upon the possibility of all those experiences to which our bodies expose ourselves – hunger and thirst, weariness and pain, seeing and hearing, flogging, crucifixion, death and burial.’
But our Lord also entered into all the psychological possibilities of human existence.
1. He had ordinary human affections. Note his choice of disciples, Mt 3:14. He shows special consideration for his mother, special affection for the rich young ruler, Mk 10:21, and compassion for Jerusalem.
2. He experienced all the ordinary human emotions. He knew sorrow, amazement and grief. He felt anger and fear.
3. He had a human faculty of choice. He is incarnate by his own decision. But during his life also he made decisions – ‘the painful decisions of humanness made on the basis of limited information by one conscious of creaturely frailty and fearful of the cost.’
4. He had a human intellect. ‘Not only a human intellect, but also a human intellect.’ On the human level, there were things that he did not know. ‘Christ as man knew only as much of God (or of his own godhead) as God was pleased to reveal to him: through general revelation given in the work of creation and providence, through special revelation given in the Scriptures of the Old Testament and through direct prophetic disclosure given to him in his capacity as Mediator.’
Implications of the Incarnation
It follows from John’s doctrine of the incarnation that the Mediator had two natures. ‘Two great facts lie at the foundation of our religion: we worship him, and we feel that he is one with us.’
‘Christ has the form of God and the form of a servant; a human mind and a divine mind; human affections and divine affections; human emotions and divine emotions; a human will and a divine will; human limitedness and divine unlimitedness.’
The incarnation is permanent. ‘His humanness has undergone a glorious metamorphosis – it has been highly exalted – but it remains humanness, a transfigured amalgam of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, Gen 2:7. As such Christ is the sign and the pledge of our own ultimate exaltation.’
And Dwelt Among Us
John adds two further facts:
1. ‘The incarnate Word dwelt among us, identifying completely with our dependentness and sharing our suffering.’
2. He shared with us the experience of temptation, and also the experience of dying. ‘Among us means, at last, between two thieves, crucified, enduring the anathema, his sonship obscured even from himself.’
And We Beheld His Glory
‘In Christ, the glory of God becomes visible. In himself, God is invisible, obscured by impenetrable clouds of otherness; or, alternatively, obscured by brightness which blinds by excess of light.’ In Christ we behold the glory of God – and, in particular, the characteristics of grace and truth.