By Rev. Saw Eh Plo Soe
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. - 1 John 1:3
Christmas is about the word 'incarnation.' We sing it every year in our Christmas carols, especially in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charles Wesley wrote that, and one line you’ve sung says, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity.” If you understand the incarnation, you’ll understand what Christmas is about. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t use the word incarnation, but it teaches the doctrine of the Incarnation when it says, “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Let’s take a look at the first two verses. It’s frankly doctrinal, and it’s boldly historical.
Christmas is frankly doctrinal. The text says the invisible has become visible, the incorporeal has become corporeal. In other words, God has become human. The absolute has become particular. The ideal has become real. The divine has taken up a human nature. This is not only a specific doctrine, but it’s also unique. Doctrine always distinguishes you. One of the reasons we’re afraid to talk about it is because it distinguishes us from others. But Christianity is unique. It doesn’t say incarnation is normal, but it doesn’t say it’s impossible. It says God is so imminent that it is possible, but he is so transcendent that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an event.
Christmas is not just frankly doctrinal; it’s also boldly historical. Look at what John says: We saw it. We heard it. When we give you these accounts of Jesus walking on the water, of Jesus rising from the dead. We saw him do this. We heard him do this. We felt him do this. In other words, the doctrine of Christmas is that God became historical. The manger, the resurrection, the story of Jesus is not just a story. It’s true. It happened in history. The doctrine of Christmas is that Jesus came. If he didn't come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn't come, I wouldn't want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All that will do is crush you into the ground. Christmas is not just an inspiring story we can live up to, but it's frankly doctrinal and boldly historical.
First John 1:3 says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son." This word fellowship, which is koinonia, means that if Jesus Christ has come, if Christmas is true, then we've got a basis for a personal relationship with God. God is no longer a remote idea or just a force we cower before. He's become graspable. If the Son would come all this way to become a real person to you, don't you think the Holy Spirit will do anything in his power to make Jesus a real person to you in your heart? Christmas is an invitation to become mystical. Christmas is an invitation to know Christ personally. Christmas is an invitation by God to say: Look what I've done to come near to you. Now draw near to me. I don't want to be a concept; I want to be a friend.
The gospel is that salvation is the kingdom of God coming down into this world. The body is important. Matter is important. This world is important. He took on physical flesh. Therefore, Christians know in the name of Christ we share our faith, but in the name of Christ we also help a poor person get a decent house. That's part of testifying to the gospel of Christmas. The kingdom of God is here to rehabilitate this world, not to save us out into ethereal paradise. The future of traditional religion is paradise. The future of the gospel is a new heaven, a new earth.
John says: I want you to have fellowship with us. I want you to believe what we are saying. I want you to understand the doctrine of Christmas. I want us to be united in a community. I want us to be united in belief. And then he says: I'm doing all this—why?—so my joy will be complete. He doesn't say: I need your lives to be okay so I can have any joy at all. He's already got joy. He says: You need to get your act together for my joy to be complete. There's a balance there. He's got a joy no matter what they do. Christmas gives you a subterranean joy. It's a joy that cannot go out, and it will give you the freedom to get involved in the lives of other people. Christmas makes you free to be emotional. It makes you realize the emotion of grief is not going to take you all the way down, because you have a subterranean joy. If you believe the doctrine of Christmas, it makes you deeply mystical. It makes you happily material. It makes you fiercely relational. It makes you free to be emotional. What else could you want? Think about that the next time you say to somebody, "Have a merry Christmas."