David F. Watson, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament, United Theological Seminary
Christmas is about many things to many people. For some people, it is about shopping and presents. For others, it is about spending time with family. For the orthodox believer, however, Christmas is about the Incarnation. At a particular point in history, in a particular place, among particular people, Christ was born—fully divine and fully human. God took on the realities of human existence.
I love to sing Christmas hymns. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night” are among my favorites. I imagine a peaceful scene of Christ in a manger, a moment of calm before the storm. I’ve visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, prayed at the traditional site of Christ’s birth in a grotto under the church, and marveled at the droves of people who stand in line to take in this venerated site. People from many nations, of many different races, and all different stripes of Christianity come to stand and pray where we believe that God was born into this world as a human child. This is where salvation came into the world, where God’s decisive act against sin and death took place.
For the orthodox believer, Christmas is about the Incarnation, and the Incarnation is about salvation. As we read in Ephesians 2:1-10,
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
We who were once far off from God have been brought near. This is not our own doing. It is God’s gift to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Incarnation, God came to us as a savior and offered us life where we once there was only death.
We have a savior because we so desperately need one. Even as Christmas approaches, the reminders of the brokenness of this world are all around us. Open up your browser to the CNN homepage. What do you see?
Apart from Christ, there is simply no hope, but in Christ there is limitless hope. There is hope for today and hope for a future that extends into eternity. Christ is a wellspring of hope–abundant, overflowing, ever-present hope, the signs of which are right before us, if we have eyes to see. Through Christ, broken relationships can be mended. People can overcome addiction, fear, guilt, and shame. Through Christ, people of different races can work together for the common good. The social order can change. Through Christ, we can have eternal life, life that begins with new birth in the here and now.
For the orthodox believer, Christmas is about the Incarnation, the Incarnation is about salvation, and salvation means hope.
The human condition is that we are broken, but even in our brokenness, even with all of our repeated betrayals of the One who called us into being, God has loved us enough to come in person. There is nothing more important than this, no more profound truth than this. We need a savior. Thank God, we have one.