By David Guretzki. Reprinted with permission. Read more of these columns with a free print subscription to Faith Today.
I’ve been writing and teaching theology now for decades. Those who know me can testify I tend toward superlatives. “The most important thing here to remember is this!” I stress or “Everything else pales in significance to that!”
Such hyperbole can sometimes put me in my spot – not everything can be the most important thing.
Nevertheless, when it comes to our Christian faith I think it is possible to ask if there is any one thing that ranks as the most important thing ever.
Before I risk answering you’re probably asking, "What do you mean by important?" Great question!
By important I refer to a fact, state of reality or truth that, were it false, a fairy tale or untrue, it would cause everything else we believe to fall apart. Something is of ultimate importance when nothing else we hold dear makes sense without it.
So let me dare to suggest that without Christmas nothing else makes sense, at least from a Christian point of view.
When I say Christmas, of course, I’m not talking about the date December 25 nor about the now nearly corrupted season so associated with the name. Indeed, centuries passed before the Church celebrated a day called Christmas.
By Christmas I mean that particular point in our time and space when the eternal Son of God (or God of God, as the Nicene Creed calls Him) took on humanity to come to be with us, to enter into fellowship with us as He had decided before creation.
The prophet Isaiah announced this as the coming of Immanuel. The evangelist (John) calls it the Word become flesh. Theologians call it the Incarnation. And a former colleague of mine, Dr. Blayne Banting, calls it in most earthy fashion God in a bod!
What makes the Incarnation so utterly important? Aren’t there other things we could also deem vital?
Some might point to the divine inspiration of Scripture, and its unique role and status in our salvation. True, the Bible is tremendously important, and without it we would know a lot less than the little we already do know about God and His plans. However, God could have continued to spread the truth about Himself through oral preaching and teaching passed on through the centuries.
Others might argue the moral teachings of Jesus are most important. Yes, Jesus tells us a lot about the good life lived before God. Yet from an inter-religious perspective there are lots of similarities, morally speaking, to what Jesus and other great religions have also taught. The Golden Rule is hardly unique to Christianity and many of the moral prohibitions we abide by are common outside Christianity as well.
Still others might argue for the death and resurrection of Jesus. No doubt we’d be lost without Jesus dying and rising on our behalf. But we have to admit without the Incarnation there would be no cross or resurrection.
God created a world in which He deemed it right and good to be with us, to … show us what it looks like to fully live a life animated by divine love.
The utterly unique claim of Christianity is that God created a world not merely to observe from afar, playing with it as a child might in her imaginary sandbox world. Rather – and this is the most important thing ever – God created a world in which He deemed it right and good to be with us, to humbly take on the limitations, pains and temptations of human bodily life, and show us what it looks like to fully live a life animated by divine love. (And, of course, ultimately to suffer and die to redeem His creation from sin.)
In all this God remains Lord over us, but also reveals Himself as our brother and friend in the person of Jesus Christ, along with the empowering presence and new birth of the Holy Spirit.
The greatest mystery of Christmas is therefore not how God could be simultaneously divine and human, as great as that is. It is that God actually did it. He decided, graciously and mercifully, He would always – forever – be with us in and through Jesus Incarnate. Everything else truly does pale in significance to this one mind-blowing fact, one Christians too often take for granted.
The Word became flesh for our sake. That, my friends, is the most important thing ever. And that’s no hyperbole.
David Guretzki of Ottawa is executive publisher of Faith Today and serves The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as executive vice-president and resident theologian.
Author: David Guretzki