In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of this world. The place where the questions about the reality of God and about the reality of the world are answered at the same time is characterized solely by the name: Jesus Christ. God and the world are enclosed in this name. In Christ all things exist (Col. 1:17). From now on we cannot speak rightly of either God or the world without speaking of Jesus Christ.
—from Ethics, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I have always debated whether or not I should go to school for English Literature or Theology, and it is moments like these that make me want to ship myself off to study theology from an ivory tower somewhere. Reading Bonhoeffer gets my mind’s excitement-juices flowing, and when I put this argument up against the coming of Christmas, I knew I had to write a post about it.
As I read Bonhoeffer’s thoughts, which were written in his theological masterpiece Ethics, I began to realize how much his arguments were relevant for Christmas. Without even saying the word “Christmas,” Bonhoeffer expresses the very concept that epitomizes the holiday.
Christmas is the remembrance of the day when the son of God was born inside the temporal shell of a man: to grow, to live, to die as a human being.
Christmas is the remembrance of the day when the first inkling of hope was born among humanity, and when the darkness began to understand that it would never have a chance.
Christmas is the remembrance of the day when the reality of this world and the reality of God himself were bound up into one Person; when our small, finite, sad reality was bound up with the reality of a voluminous, infinite, and glorious God. And it was bound up together in the person of humanity’s savior: Jesus Christ.
Before the coming of Christ, there was a chasm between the love of God and the love of man. For while not all men did, some men did love God, albeit imperfectly, and God did certainly love all men. Love is true and perfect when felt on both sides, but it can only be manifested and experienced fully when it connects and can be seen by both sides.
Just as two lovers might be separated by thousands of miles of ocean, their love for each other is still real, true, and perfect. However, it is only at its fullest when they are together. So it is with man and God.
When Christ entered the world, on that cold night in Bethlehem, the love of God finally connected and wrapped itself tight around the love of man. Not all men received or loved the Father’s perfect love, but many did, including myself, and it is still the reason we celebrate Christmas. We can feel the love of the Father through the sending of His son: the day His love finally came down to meet our own.
In Bonhoeffer’s argument, the love of God was not only manifested in Christ, but the reality of us both was wrapped up in Jesus. Jesus’s coming shows us that there is a God who loves us. Jesus’s coming shows us that there is an escape from our sinfulness. All things are through Christ, and through him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3). To understand our world in the slightest, and to understand our existence, we have to first understand God. And yet, we cannot understand God. To understand God, we need to first understand Jesus.
Without the coming of Christ, there is no way for us to understand God, and because Christ walked the road of life, God now understands us fully.
If you have not before, let it sink in. Just ponder. Reflect. Strive to understand. Seek to wrap your mind around the goodness of Christmas. The miracle of the manger. The beauty of the Babe of Bethlehem. Take the time to stop and think. Let your mind marvel at the sacrifice of God’s Son.
Be amazed as the shepherds were, in their fields at night:
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger.
The painting at the beginning of this post is “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, a Dutch painter, painted in 1622 during the Northern Renaissance (for more information on the Northern Renaissance, check out a post I wrote on it HERE). Study the looks on the shepherds’ faces. See the admiration in their eyes? See the grins playing on their lips? See the realization in their profiles? They understand that the realities of man and God have finally come together in the Person of this small child.
Take a moment to understand this Christmas. Take time to stand in awe. Realize that in our Savior, the one who was born in a manger, the realities of God and of us intersect. In the life of the innocent Christ child, we are ransomed and saved. In fact, our reality is permitted to continue on in Him.
It’s amazing what reading a snippet from Ethics did for me this Christmas…
A Christmas blessing to you all from Charles Dickens’s classic: “God bless Us, Every One!”