The shocking claim of Christmas, that the baby in the manger is the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Maker of heaven and earth, the uncreated Creator of all things, is at least as hard to understand as it is to believe. But that outrageous claim is why Christians celebrate the day: They believe that this baby, born of a virgin in Bethlehem of Judea, was the only begotten son of God, the long-prophesied Messiah, and the Savior of the world. For the people who think this, it makes perfect sense that the world’s biggest annual celebration is held in His honor; nobody ever born was more important or did more good.
Forget believing or disbelieving this; if we are going to understand what Christians mean by these ideas, we have to unpack some concepts and examine some unspoken assumptions. We need to know what Christians mean by God, why they think God had a Son and what they think God’s Son was doing being born at all, much less being born in Bethlehem. These are some big questions and we won’t get them all answered in one day; those of you who stick with me through the rest of the Christmas season will, I hope, have a better idea of how this all hangs together by the time we are done.
The place to start is with the idea of God: Why do Christians and so many other people believe in an invisible Ruler and Creator of the universe—and then how does the Christian idea of God differ from the others?