When Christ was born into the human race, He had come to rescue a race that was entirely lost. We were not entirely forsaken—because of His gracious intention for us—but we were entirely lost. This means that everything we had with us was lost too. When a hiker is lost in the woods, not only is he lost, but everything in his backpack is lost with him. We were lost in our economics, lost in our politics, lost in our art, lost in our culture, and lost in our philosophy. And contrary to the assumptions of many, it was not the case that we were all of us lost except for our philosophers. It is closer to the truth to say that our philosophers were the navigation party, and not one person in our ranks was more lost than they were. They were the ones who brought what they thought were the maps and compasses.
We know that the Scripture tells us that Christ came as the king of kings. He is the one who triumphed over the principalities and powers. He was the baby in a manger who was a threat to Herod on a throne. His way of peace answered all the men of blood. But it is too often missed that the infant arms of the baby Jesus threw down every form of secular philosophy—not through anything they did, but rather through just the fact of being the small human arms of the Almighty. He did not just deal with the powerful. He also humiliated the scribe, the wise man, the debater of this age. If you are going to rescue a lost race, one of the most important things you can do is deal with their know-it-alls who like being lost, just so long as they can write books about it.
It is not surprising that different errors are addressed by different holidays in the church calendar. Good Friday answers Nietzsche, Easter answers Schopenhauer, the Ascension answers Hegel, and Pentecost answers Spinoza. But Christmas is the final answer to Plato and Kant, and in many ways it is the foundational answer to all the others. In many ways it is the rudimentary answer, the cornerstone answer—one that every Christian who has ever been tempted to take secular philosophers seriously should take to heart. Protagoras once said that man is the measure of all things—which was the height of our stupidity and folly. The Incarnation says rather that the Man is the measure of all things. Christians who must affirm the latter must also deny the former, and we must do so merrily and with good cheer. We do this as we gain His everlasting hall.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The word for Word here is Logos, and the first verses of John sounded ponderous enough to catch the attention of the sophisticated chin-strokers of the age. Heraclitus had played with the idea of the Logos, and since the philosophers of Mars Hill liked nothing better than to kick around the latest thing (Acts 17: 21), these starting verses sounded obscure enough to be really promising. But this was before v. 14 wrecked the seminar. The absolute Truth, the one who fills all things (Eph. 1:23) condescended to a place where He would have to fill His diapers. This—to the refined and philosophical mind—was outrageous, impudent, and even blasphemous. The entire Greek world came crashing to the ground by v. 14, when it says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The ultimate Truth suckled at His mother’s breast, had ten fingers and ten toes, which His mother counted, and He then grew a bit older and went to Nazareth High. The universal became a particular, and did so without ceasing to be universal. The universal Truth has a home town, and a mom, and is a scandal to the Greeks. He is also a scandal to Kantians and the postmodernists, and all for the same reason.
This is the final answer to Plato, as has been noted more than once. There is now true union between the heavenly reality and earthly reality, and by knowing Him we can know them both. But it needs to be emphasized over and over, again and again, that the Incarnation marked by Christmas is also the final and utter refutation of Kant, and all the philosophers indebted to him downstream. The Incarnation answers Kant the same way it answers Plato—the Word became flesh. It is also beyond ironic that Kant’s name was Immanuel Kant and, as we should know, Immanuel means God with us—the very possibility Kant was most concerned to deny.
One of the central reasons why we can have a merry Christmas is that Christmas enables us to not take the philosophers seriously. Not only that, but it enables us to not take anybody seriously whose thought presupposes taking these philosophers seriously. We are talking about real freedom here. And lest anybody get huffy, I am not talking about abandoning the life of the mind. I am talking about the true foundation of the life of the mind, which is loving Jesus, whose birthday we are marking.
These are not just raw assertions; this is not a disgruntled former philosophy major doing some trash talking. What does the Scripture tell us?
“. . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:2-3).
Christmas means that the one who made the worlds came into this world, and did so as the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. God is here, God is with us. Jesus told Philip that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father (John 14:9). The Word did not come into the world in order to be degraded and unrecognizable.
When the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, what happened? John tells us that we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. What we beheld was full of grace and truth. When ultimate reality came into this world, we beheld the glory of that ultimate reality. When the God the Speaker spoke what He had to say into this world, He did so through God the Spoken. And lest we hunt frantically for some self-justifying, philosophically-necessary ignorance, God has also given Himself at Pentecost through God the Interpretation (1 Cor. 2:10). God really is with us. Everything Kant pretended not to know, the entire noumenal realm, is right here, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Philosophers might not know it, but shepherds do.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:1-4).
Life is simple, and Christmas is merry. Manifested means manifested, not hidden. Seen and heard means seen and heard, not invisible and silent. Declared means declared, not muffled. Written means written, and why? That your joy may be full—joy to the world, the Lord is come.