Dr. James Fowler
Many of our Christmas celebrations are focused on the sentimental trappings of the nativity of a newborn male child, born to Mary more than two millennia ago. The purpose and objective of the birth of Jesus are often obscured in such trite observances as “Happy Birthday Jesus” banners displayed in the Christmas season. Celebrating the birth of Jesus was not practiced among early Christians until the fourth century, when Constantine became the Roman emperor, declared Christianity as the official religion of the empire, and church leaders declared the date of Dec. 25 (winter solstice) as the Feast of the Nativity.
From the earliest celebration of the nativity of Jesus, the incarnational explanation of “the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14), recognized that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Emmanuel (God with us), the incarnated God-man (Greek – theanthropos), fully God and fully man. This was theologically clarified by the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) as the hypostatic union of deity and humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ.
But we still ask, “What was the purpose of Jesus’ birth?” The birth of Jesus is a prototype or type, of which the new birth of the Christian is the antitype or fulfillment. The physical birth of Jesus was the foreshadowing, the type, of God’s intent for the restoration of humanity to be “man as God intended” via the spiritual “new birth” (regeneration) of receptive individuals who thus become Christ-ones, Christians. The resurrection of Jesus is also represented as a form of birth, as Jesus was the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), and Christians are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). Paul explained that Jesus was the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29), referring to all Christ-ones, who are also born out of death into spiritual life in likeness of Jesus’ birth and resurrection.