The Christmas season is when we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came to dwell with us. We sing and celebrate how, through the Holy Spirit, the Divine Son came to reside in the virgin Mary’s womb so that he could be born a baby in the manager. He is truly God with us.
This is the Christian confession of the significance of Christmas that many today forget. In this Advent season, therefore, it is helpful to remember that from the very beginning the church confessed that Jesus is God.
We find right from the pages that the New Testament confesses that Jesus is Lord and God the same way the Father is God (Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:6–7; Heb. 1:1–3, 8, 10–12, Rev. 1:8, 21:6; 22:13; etc.). However, what we sometimes forget is that the early church wrestled with how to clearly talk about this in ways that were faithful to Scripture. The question of their day and our is: How do we communicate the whole of Biblical truth without misrepresenting what is being described?
Christ and the Definition of Chalcedon
In this light, Chalcedon is very important for our celebration of Christmas today. The Chalcedonian Definition was a clarification of the Christian confession that was written at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
Before Chalcedon, other councils had decided important doctrinal issues. Once the church was clear in its articulation that Jesus is truly God in the same way that the Father is God (Council of Nicaea, 325 AD), more difficulties arose around how we should understand the humanity of Christ.
The beauty of Chalcedon is that it puts in clear succinct language how it is that Jesus’s humanity and divinity are united in the one person. Here is the Definition:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all unite in teaching that we should confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This same one is perfect in deity, and the same one is perfect in humanity; the same one is true God and true man, comprising a rational soul and a body. He is of the same essence as the Father according to his deity, and the same one is of the same essence with us according to his humanity, like us in all things except sin. He was begotten before the ages from the Father according to his deity, but in the last days for us and our salvation, the same one was born of the Virgin Mary, the bearer of God, according to his humanity. He is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, and Only Begotten, who is made known in two natures united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. The distinction between the natures is not at all destroyed because of the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved and concurs together into one person and subsistence. He is not separated or divided into two persons, but he is one and the same Son, the Only Begotten, God the Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way the prophets spoke of him from the beginning, and Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and the Council of the fathers has handed the faith down to us.
Let’s highlight several key features from the Definition that our particularly relevant for our faith, especially in the season of Christmas:
Jesus is both truly God and truly man at the same time. “This same one is perfect in deity, and the same one is perfect in humanity; the same one is true God and true man.” The whole purpose of the Definition is to expound exactly what we mean by this, in accordance with Scriptures. How can a person (Jesus Christ) be both God and man at the same time? Scripture tells us this is true but there are many unbiblical ways to understand this. Church history is rife with error and misunderstanding.
Jesus in his humanity is fully human and like us in every aspect of humanity: “and true man, comprising a rational soul and a body.” This is clear from numerous Biblical texts, for example:
Heb. 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
Jesus is not just a divine person or being covered over in human flesh so that he merely looks human. He is truly and fully human. Just as we have body and souls, so in his humanity Christ took to himself a human body and a human soul in the very same way that we have a body and soul. His divinity is not the super powered battery animated in human flesh. The eternal person of the Son also took on a human soul.
“He is of the same essence as the Father according to his deity, and the same one is of the same essence with us according to his humanity, like us in all things except sin.” Here the Definition uses the word “homoousia” or “same essence,” which was a hard-fought phrase central to the Nicene creed to describe the equality of the Son with God the Father and applies the same word to describe his identity with us in our humanity. According to his divine nature, the Son is God in the same way that the Father is God, and in his humanity he is human in the same way that we are human.
In their union, which happens in the one person of Christ, the divine and human natures don’t lose their unique attributes. They become connected but they don’t mix or change. They unite but it is not a union where each aspect changes or morphs:
who is made known in two natures united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. The distinction between the natures is not at all destroyed because of the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved and concurs together into one person and subsistence.
At first glance, this may sound technical and esoteric. But there is a simple Biblical logic to it. When the Son becomes man, if something in his divinity changed then he wouldn’t still be God the way the Father is God. And if the humanity he takes on changes to become something like a superhuman or a divinized human, then he wouldn’t be able to represent us as one of us. Both the humanity and the divinity are united and neither undergo a change because of this union.
Chalcedon and Our Christmas Confession
Christmas is a time to celebrate and remember who Jesus is and what he did! At Christmas, as much as any time of year, we confess that the Son of God who has existed for all eternity as truly God, took upon himself our humanity in the incarnation. In the Virgin’s womb, he takes on all the attributes of humanity without ceasing to be God or losing any aspects of his divinity. These two “natures” come together and are united without either experiencing a change in the essential “godness” of the divine and “humanness” of the humanity.
The Definition of Chalcedon is nothing but a faithful representation of Biblical language. He is God. He is God with us. He is God with us in the flesh.
Matt. 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).