The theology of Christmas is called incarnation. Those of us who call ourselves Christians celebrate God incarnate (enfleshed) in Jesus of Nazareth, whom we profess to be the Christ, meaning the anointed One. I embrace that theology wholeheartedly.
Most Christians stop there. But if we read the letters of the apostle Paul, for example, he talks a lot about our participation in this incarnation. We are “in Christ” and have been since the beginning of the universe. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
We are united with Christ who is one with God. We identify with this Divine One. We lose ourselves in Christ. We are one with Christ, as Christ promised we would. We start out believing this by faith and end up experiencing it in our lives. As my favorite Scripture verse says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
John the Baptist put it this way of Christ, “He must increase; I must decrease.” As a sponge is filled with water, so are we filled with Christ. Like a fossil gradually loses all of its organic elements until it is fully replaced by minerals from the matrix in which it resides, so we who abide in Christ gradually lose ourselves and are replaced with Him.
In other words we become incarnations of Christ and incarnations of the Spirit who dwells within us. To put it even more boldly, we are incarnations of God. To fundamentalists this sounds dangerously close to claiming divinity for ourselves. In fact we are claiming nothing for ourselves. We are nothing. God is everything.
This incarnational language is at the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy, which was the original form of Christianity before Roman Catholicism, Protestantism or Evangelicalism existed. Orthodoxy calls this truth by many names: theosis, theopoesis, apotheosis, deification or divinization. (If you want to explore this more, look up the terms on .) The Patristic writings (the next generation of Christians after the apostles) are filled with this teaching. It is not heresy, but the oldest Christian orthodoxy.
In short the Christian gospel teaches that the purpose of Christmas – of God becoming incarnate in Jesus – is so that we may be incarnations of Christ. So that people might not only hear about Christ from us but see Christ in us. Christmas is not about believing a bunch of stories and doctrines about an ancient man. It is becoming so infused with Christ that Christ is visible and present through us.
Jesus prayed this for us the night before he died. Jesus prayed “for those who will believe in me through their [the apostles’] word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me … that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me.”
In other words Jesus intended for his followers to be so united with God that we continue his ministry as incarnations of God. That is the meaning of Christmas and the intent of Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. Christmas is not just about remembering something that happened two thousand years ago. It is happening today. It is about who we are as sons and daughters of God.
It is not just about Jesus as the Son of God, but as Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ….” Elsewhere he reminds that that we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of Christ.
Christmas is about having a God-aware mind, a God-intoxicated heart, and a God-infused life. It is about embodying the Spirit of Christmas every day. It is about knowing who we are in Christ and living from that awareness. It is not just about mouthing “Merry Christmas” but being living incarnations of Christmas. This is Christmas. Happy Incarnation Day!