The Feast of the Nativity marks the coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ into the world to rescue the human race from sin and death. St. Matthew and St. Luke tell of the virginal conception of Jesus and his birth at Bethlehem, but St. John begins his Gospel in eternity. The coming of Christ into the world began with his birth at Bethlehem, but his origins are in eternity, as the divine Word that transcends time and space.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, states the Book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1). “In the beginning was the Word”, states St. John (John 1:1). The Word is the self utterance of God, that was with God and was God, and through whom all things were made, the source of all life and light. Yet though God created all things in heaven and earth by his Word, man created in his image and likeness did not recognise him. God therefore chose one people, the Israelites, those of the seed of Abraham, in whose seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He spoke to Moses and the prophets, yet most of the people were unfaithful. However, there was always a faithful Remnant who sought to be faithful to God’s covenant promise to his people. The prophets spoke the Word of God, his message of judgement and mercy, and looked forward to a coming age when God’s purposes would be fully realised.
Finally, God’s purposes were fully realised when he came in person to redeem the world from sin and death. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John1:14). “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
The prophets spoke in the name of God, “Thus saith the Lord”, but Jesus said, “I say unto you”. He thus said in his own name what Moses and the prophets said in God’s name. He did not simply speak of God’s message of judgement and mercy as Moses and the prophets had done, he embodied it in his life, death and resurrection. He proclaimed and embodied in his own person the full, final and definitive revelation of God’s will.
It is the doctrine of the Incarnation that above all marks out Christianity from other religions. Mohammed spoke as a prophet, but not as a Saviour who forgives sins. The teachings of the Buddha or Confucius provide good advice, but not good news. By contrast, the Christian Gospel is not simply good advice, but good news, the good news of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As well as being different from other religions Christianity is also radically different from the prevailing philosophy of twenty first century Western man, and the false gospel of the advertising industry. The advertising industry encourages people to buy things they do not need with money they do not have in order to impress people who are not worth knowing. The world is defined in terms of winners and losers and everyone is encouraged to be competing against everyone else. This false gospel promises success, but instead produces unhappiness and misery. Those who are not materially successful are left angry and frustrated because they are excluded from the prosperity that others are enjoying. However, the paradox is that those who are materially successful are also angry and frustrated because they can never have enough and can never relax because they have to keep ahead of everyone else. They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
By contrast, the Christian Gospel proclaims that power is not found in success in this world, but in weakness. Jesus was not the warrior and conqueror people were expecting. Rather his messianic destiny of enthronement and rule was realised through reversal, repudiation, suffering and death. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).