Never Always Winter

Scott Oliphint
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes Narnia as a place where it is "always winter, but never Christmas." This is a perfect way to explain to a child (and to the rest of us) what cold despair and degradation look like. "Always winter"-- everything is frozen, dead, unable to grow or green; "never Christmas" -- no gifts, no family meals together, no warmth from the fire, nothing to which to look forward.

We have entered the season of "looking forward." Christians over the world set their sites, in a particular way, on the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation. That incomprehensible gift of grace is the central focus of the Christian faith. Without it, there is no Christianity, because without it, there is no Christ. A place where it is "always winter, but never Christmas" is a place without the Incarnation, without the hope of salvation.

We can praise and thank God that there never was, nor will there ever be, such a place. Even before the entrance of sin, God condescended, in His Son, to speak to Adam and Eve, and to walk in the Garden. This condescension of God, in the person of His Son, was a constant pledge of the relationship to man, the covenant, that God had unilaterally established.

But then the sin of man ruined everything. Left to itself, the world would be a place where it was "always winter." Yet the LORD God refused to let creation languish. Even with the devastating effects of sin, this now man-mangled habitat would not be "always winter." In His grace, the Lord determined, according to His own redemptive time-table, to fight against and conquer the sin that we brought upon ourselves and on the rest of His creation. So, to the serpent, God said (Gen. 3:15):
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
This verse is often called the protevangelion, the "first gospel." It is the Lord's guarantee that His world will never be a place where it is "always winter." It is the promise that Christmas will come, because the Christ will come.

The Old Testament saints knew this promise, and they looked forward to it. Hebrews 11 is a recounting of just some of those who, by faith, knew what God had in store for His people. The way in which the Lord dealt with His people, from Genesis 3 on, was that He condescended, He came down, in order to speak to them, to fight with them, to promise them ultimate redemption, and to make clear to them what He requires of them.
"I have come down to deliver" (Ex. 3:8) was the constant refrain of redemptive history. Anyone who properly heard or read what God was revealing in the Old Testament sung that refrain, and meant it.

And then it happened. When the time had fully come, the same Son who Himself had condescended since the beginning of time, now condescended to be born of a virgin. He was sent by the Father, and He was conceived, not by natural means, but by God the Spirit Himself. The message of Christmas is the message of the Triune God redeeming His people through Him who, from the beginning, had been the Mediator between God and man -- the Son of God Himself, the one who now comes as the Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine Warrior of the Old Testament inaugurated a new and better covenant; He came to conquer, and He conquered by subjecting Himself to the sin that was ours alone. He became what He was not in order that we might become what we are not. This is the Christmas message, and it is message that has resonated throughout history since Genesis 3. It is the message that all of history B.C. (Before Christ) anticipated, and it is the message to which all of history A.D. (anno domini) looks back. The crux of history is the cross of Christ.

In that way, the condescension of the Triune God, with its focus on the Son, is as replete throughout history as is time itself. There never was a time when God, in the Son, did not condescend, in order to establish and maintain a relationship to man. There never was a time, since the fall, that the Son did not condescend to deliver, to redeem, and to adopt His own people.

But, even as the condescension of God is, literally, an "every day" event, we should never reckon it as ordinary. It is, in sum, the most extraordinary act that God could have initiated. In order to condescend, God (the Son) had to take to Himself characteristics that were not "naturally" His. His "coming down" was a costly coming down. It was an act of humiliation, of self-denial, of sacrifice, and all for the sake of those who deserved nothing of the kind.

Even as He humbled Himself, the Son of God at no point ceased to be fully and completely God. His humbling was not an act of God denying Himself, such that He determined not to be God; that, we should recognize, is utterly impossible. But this in no way minimizes or in any way lessens the scope, the intent, the intensity, the pain, the agony of the humiliation that the Son underwent.

Here, then, is a Christmas project, a project that can occupy the mind for a lifetime, not just during Christmas. Meditate on the reality of God's condescension in Christ. Think about the incomprehensible fact of the Incarnation. That which was so "ordinary" during the entire course of history, is also so utterly unthinkable and beyond finding out. This was the point that Paul was making to the Corinthians. Though he determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), that very knowledge was "not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age" (1 Cor. 2:6). As a matter of fact, what Paul was imparting to the Corinthian Christians was something no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, (1 Cor. 2:9). Yet every topic of apologetics that has been broached has its only final resolution in this truth.

Any study of the history of religions will quickly show that the heart of man has never imagined that, in order to extricate man from his self-made death trap, God would have to trap Himself. Every other religion teaches, in some form or other, that we got ourselves into this mess, so it is up to us to get ourselves out of it. Many religions teach that it is beneath God to have to lower Himself to our sorry status in order to help us. If He were to do such a thing, so it is said, He would cease to be God altogether.

But this just is the wonder of Christmas. The Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD), for example, affirms that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity is "one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably..." Thus, the second person of the Trinity, who himself is fully God, in taking on a human nature, became the Lord Jesus Christ. This Christ is one who, in taking on a human nature, now has two natures. But it is absolutely essential to notice that in being one person with two natures, those natures were in no way confused -- such that the divine became the human -- changed -- such that the divine or the human became something else -- divided -- such that the one nature could, in Christ, be removed from him -- or separated -- such that the two natures required two persons. In other words, Christianity has historically affirmed that there are properties that only God has, and which are essential to him, and properties of creation, both of which themselves can be unified in one person without either "side" of those properties losing what they are essentially. The divine remains divine and the human remains human. And yet they are unified in one person. The person who became man, remained fully God. No one has ever imagined such a thing.

But God not only imagined it, he decreed it and acted upon it. God, while remaining God, became man. Out of nothing but sheer and unadulterated grace, He decided to save, and to live eternally with, an undeserving and unlovable people. Is it any wonder that the announcement of Christmas required an angel, with an angelic host praising God (Luke 2:9-14)? How else could such an unfathomable reality be made known?

Since the entrance of sin, God has ensured that it will never be "always winter." Christmas is as embedded in redemptive history as is time itself. But it is anything but ordinary. It is the most exalted form of God's inscrutably glorious character. It is worth a lifetime of meditation. Thinking on it will inevitably encourage holiness and humility. It will encourage progress in becoming more and more like the One who emptied Himself, that we might be filled. For those of us who have trusted Christ, this world, no matter its ruin, is a place where it is "always Christmas, and never winter." "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013).