The Christ of Christmas
Scheduled for December 21
is a solidly established fact that the early church had no celebration of what
we now call Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ. The custom at that time
was to celebrate the day of a person’s death, not birth, and the early church
adopted various festivals honoring certain martyrs on the days which marked
their deaths as well as Easter.
itself seems to have originated in the fourth century in the Roman church, and
spread rapidly throughout Christendom. Surprisingly, one of the reasons for
this rapid spread was the popularity of a certain heresy known as Arianism.
Arius, the bishop who started all this, claimed that Jesus was not truly divine
in every sense, but was a created being, the highest of all created beings but
nonetheless created. The church needed a way to stress to the average
Christian -- a person who could not read and depended upon the priests for
solid doctrine -- that Jesus was in fact God in the flesh. The celebration of
his birth being somewhat in fashion, the church promoted this as a way to
instruct the faithful in correct doctrine.
has an opposite: it is called Gnosticism. Gnosticism is found in the New
Testament church as a heresy. While Arianism says that Christ was not fully
God, Gnosticism says that he was not fully man. Between these two heresies we
have the roots of most of the cults which have plagued Christianity from its
beginnings. Many cults just cannot accept Jesus as both “fully God” and “fully
man,” or, as the New Testament puts it, “Son of God” and “Son of Man.”
is essential to our understanding of Communion that we see him as both. Jesus
Christ came to die, to pay the sacrifice due for our sins. Such a sacrifice
had to be human, in the flesh, for the sin came from humanity. Such a
sacrifice had to be divine, for only God could meet the standard of complete
righteous perfection required of such a sacrifice.
can be difficult to understand, so permit me an example. Let us suppose that
I’m bankrupt -- no money and lots of bills to pay. I need some help, and
because my credit is so lousy, no one will loan me the money. But, let’s
suppose, I have a rich uncle. I go to him and because he’s a loving uncle he
gives me the money to pay my debts.
two things: first, he must be a rich uncle. A poor one, a bankrupt like me,
won’t do. Next, his money has to be in dollars, because that’s what I owe, and
if he can’t change it into dollars I’m still broke. Jesus is like that.
Because he is God, he is able to pay the debt. Because he is man, he uses the
same currency I do. Combined, he can pay the debt. And like my (very
mythical) rich uncle, he loves me enough to do it. Enough to die on the cross
so that my debt might be paid.