“What is?” questions are of particular significance. When we see or hear of something before us or of something happening, we want to know what it is. We are not satisfied until we find out. Even if we cannot find out, we still want to know what is going on here. We call it a mystery, a challenge, or an object of scientific investigation.
When we speak of “the” Nativity in this context, we distinguish “the” Nativity from “any” nativity, like that of our own or of our parents and siblings. We come to understand what “the” Nativity was first understood through knowing what “any” nativity was. We say, at the end, that “the” Nativity was like and unlike “any” nativity. We have to put it that way at the risk of not covering the whole reality of that particular event we call “the” Nativity.
When things happen, we have to think about them, or at least we ought to think about them. We are not settled in mind if we know that something happened but not why it happened. Surely, with such premises, we are not being told that we can understand “the” Nativity as if it were exactly like any other nativity?
Yet, if we make “the” Nativity so different from every other nativity, we risk separating it so much from the human experience that it seems to have nothing to do with this human race. But the whole point of “the” Nativity is that it does have something to do with the whole human race. This is why it happened in the way that it did. Who was born in “the” Nativity was true man.
One line of thought, on this basis, maintains that being a “true man” was all that this Nativity of Christ implied. Another line of thought wanted to downplay the messiness of the human side. It was an illusion. “The” Nativity was only God. Much of subsequent theological and cultural history was to establish that both sides were true in one sense and false in another. Christ was true God and true man. He was not “just” man or “just” God.
The validity of this true man and true God position turned out to be surprisingly divisive. It soon became clear that this truth about “the” Nativity could rend apart souls, nations, and cultures.
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