Christian ‘Trilemma’: Celebrating the Unbelievable at Christmas

The Adoration of the Christ Child par Stomer (Stom), Matthias (ca.1600-after 1650). Oil on canvas, size : 127x163, ca 1640-1645, Palazzo Madama Torino ©FineArtImages/Leemage

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”—John 1:1–2, 14 (ESV)

Christmas is so widely celebrated as a time for family and for giving that, in a modern culture, it is easy to lose sight of what Christians for two thousand years have believed it represents: The God of the universe took the form of a human being, lived alongside his fellow man, and changed the world. The person Christians believe to be both God and man is Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

For over 1,000 years of recorded history before Jesus’ birth, prophets had uttered numerous prophesies regarding a promised Messiah (a Hebrew word for “anointed one” or “chosen one,” which in Greek is translated as the word Christ), recorded throughout the Old Testament. While some scholars include many oblique and fleeting references in Scripture that push the total number over 300, several dozen major ones clearly refer to the Promised Deliverer.

According to the Old Testament — which makes up over half of the Christian Bible — God promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through his offspring. Jacob prophesized that among his 12 sons, the royal line would come through his son Judah. God promised King David that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. The prophet Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The list goes on.

Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is that Promised Deliverer and that he fulfilled all those prophesies. Although Jesus was not born on December 25, that has always been the date on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary in Bethlehem in four or five B.C.

But Christians also believe that many of those Old Testament references refer to a Messiah who is more than a ruler or a teacher.

Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” and that “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”

Daniel prophesized about a “Son of Man” — the term by which Jesus most often referred to himself, saying:

There came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

They believe that these prophesies refer to a Christ who is actually divine. And because the Bible is clear that there is only one divine God, Christians conclude that this promised Christ must be God himself.

This is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: that there is one all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful God, who exists simultaneously in three separate and distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christians believe that 2,000 years ago the second person of the Godhead, God the Son, took on a human form without diminishing his divinity.

What Christians celebrate on December 25 is the miracle of the Incarnation, the idea of an infinite and eternal spiritual being who created the entire cosmos taking the form of a frail human child, born into a family of nobodies, in a backwater country, on a speck-of-dust of a planet.

It gives new meaning to King David’s statement in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Christian theologians refer to the Incarnation as resulting in the “hypostatic union.” The idea is that Jesus is both 100 percent God and 100 percent man. Not any sort of hybrid, but two distinct natures that are fully manifest simultaneously in one person forever. Trying to explain it to the world, works such as On the Trinity by Augustine of Hippo and the ancient Athanasian Creed strove to find language to convey this concept that defies human reason.

This is perhaps the most revolutionary claim of the Christian faith. The world has been fascinated by two millennia by this contention at the core of Christianity: that in the words of Philippians 2, to achieve a mission that Christians say no mere man could accomplish, Christmas celebrates that:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Thus began a life in a small town in the Middle East that would thirty-odd years later end in death by crucifixion and that Christians believe was shortly thereafter followed by a physical resurrection on Easter Sunday.

But the question remains: Who was Jesus?

Some Christian apologists refer to this “trilemma” of incredible choices. If Jesus thought he was God but was not, and gave his life for that delusion, then he was certifiably insane. If Jesus was not God and knew it, but led countless people astray with a deliberate lie and encouraged them to be willing to suffer for it, then he was a cruel and sadistic man. The third option is that he was who he claimed to be: the divine Son of God. For Christians, the only three choices are that Jesus must be Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.

Dozens of Christmas hymns reflect this foundational Christian belief in the Incarnation, though for many people the words are so familiar that listeners might not focus on them.

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity!” says Hark the Herald Angels Sing. “Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”

People continue to debate who and what Jesus was and is. All relevant authorities acknowledge him to be one of the most influential persons who ever walked the earth. But for observant Christians, he is infinitely more than that, and Christmas marks the keeping of centuries of promise, of a long-awaited Savior in whom the nations would put their hope.

Twenty centuries later, Christians continue to celebrate that on Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.


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