The Vault

Reviving the Novelty of Christmas

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The late Archbishop W. Temple once said “The wise question is not ‘Is Christ divine?’ but ‘What is God like?’

This was his way of driving home the point that the question of the deity of our Lord is not simply an interesting point of debate among academic theologians who have nothing better to do with their time, but is of fundamental importance to our whole conception of the nature of God. If Jesus was not God, then in the last resort, when God saw that men were sunk in sin and that they had wandered far away from Him, He said in effect, “I will send somebody to bring them back.” But if Jesus was God, then He said, “I’ll go Myself.” We cannot believe in a God who is Love in the fullest sense if we dispense with the diety of Christ. For in that case we commit ourselves to belief in a God who committed to another the task of redemption.

The basic problem of all religion is the sin of man. There is no problem presented by good deeds, for in them man is being what he ought to be, and is acting in accordance with the divine will. But when man sets up his own puny will against that of Almighty

God, and chooses to go his own selfish way, then fellowship between God and man becomes impossible and if such fellowship is to become a reality then drastic action of some sort is necessary.

The Prophets

Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s messengers bringing to the people God’s denunciation of sin in every shape and form. “I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate,” is the way in which the position is summed up in Jer. 44:4. The line of the prophets through centuries reiterated the uncompromising hostility of a holy God to everything that is evil and it could not really be said that people did not know either what the right way was, or the consequences of taking the wrong way.

But the result, in the words of Jer. 44:5 was only that “they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness”.

“God Sent Forth His Son”

So, in the fullness of the time, God did a new thing, in that He sent forth His only Son. We must not imagine that Jesus was nothing more than the last in the succession of the prophets, for Bethlehem is something quite new. God is not simply sending another messenger to call the people back. Rather the time has come, in the providence of God for the work of redemption.

  1. G. Montefiore, the liberal Jewish scholar, has made a close examination of the Gospel material, and his conclusion is that most of it can be paralleled from the Rabbinic writings. But one thing in the Gospels he cannot find in the teachings of the Rabbis, namely, the parable of the lost sheep. At its best, Rabbinic teaching on the way God is ready to receive back the penitent sinner is profoundly moving, and profoundly right. But the idea of the Rabbis does not go beyond that of a God who waits until men decide to return to Him. They have no thought of a God who Himself takes she initiative, and goes out to seek for sinners, to provide an atonement for their sins, and to bring them back to Himself,

The Christmas story then, represents something new in the history of religion. Do not be misled by those who talk about parallels to the Virgin Birth from pagan legends. There are no real parallels, only more or less coarse stories of the intercourse between gods and mortals, of demi-gods and of gods who disguised themselves as men. But Bethlehem tells us that God really became man, and that for that for the purpose of working out man’s salvation.

True God and True Man.

This means that the Babe of Bethlehem is to be understood in truth as the Son of God. This has not always been palatable to men and they have resorted to various shifts. Thus the Arians took the line that Jesus was neither God nor man, but something in between. It is the old Greek idea of a demi-god all over again. The idea has been repeated in modern times in Christadelphianism and other cults. Again, the Ebionites could not stomach the idea of a real Godhead in the Christ, so they thought of Him as a good man, the favourite idea of the liberal theology which was dominant at the turn of the century, and which still survives in places. The Docetists did full justice to the Godhead, but not to the manhood, and they drew a picture of a phantom, of One who who seemed to be man, but in reality was only God. In modern times this reappears in essentials wherever men are afraid to take seriously the manhood of our Lord, and it issues in a sentimental Jesus who is to be worshipped devoutly, but who is remote from our struggle.

In opposition to all such ideas we must insist upon the reality of the Godhead, and the reality of the manhood. As Ethelbert Stauffer puts it “The God of the NT comes down out of heaven, and seeks man in his own world, meets him at the place where he stands, and finds him where he is at home. The Son of God becomes man in order to find man. He enters upon our earthly life with its mortality, descends to the depths where we are so as to raise us to the heights where he dwells.”

From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, originally published under the title ‘And Was Made Man’, December 22, 1955.

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