A Christmas Message from IWS President James Hart

As the Bread of Heaven, that we might be fed,
Chose a manger cradle in the House of Bread,
So has Life Eternal mingled in the womb
With our mortal nature to confound the tomb.
For this swaddled infant in a humble place,
Holds our hope of glory and our means of grace;
In the love enfleshed here dawns the world’s rebirth,
Promise of salvation, pledge of peace on earth.

— Carl P. Daw, Jr.
When God’s Time Had Ripened, verses 3 & 4

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

— John 1:14 NIV

Dr. Robert Webber wrote, “God united himself with humans in order for men and women to be united with God” (Ancient Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, Baker Books, 2004). But where did Bob gain this pithy and spot-on summary of the Gospel? As an historical theologian he was recounting what was the very core of the Church Fathers’ interpretation of the entire Christian enterprise: “Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus”: “God became man so man could become God.” The great mystery of Christmas is that God didn’t just step into the created order, but rather he became what he created and assumed it into himself!

St. Irenaeus stated, “In His immeasurable love, He became what we are in order to make us what He is” (Against the Heresies, V, Preface). St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “Marvelous union and paradoxical exchange! He who is, becomes” (Discourse 45, 7-9). He who is the very essence of being itself becomes what he created, taking on the confinement of frail flesh so that we who are born of flesh may share in the fullness of his divinity.

This is a great sacramental mystery: He who is, became. The Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread (Bethlehem). He who is true food for the world was laid in a feed trough so we may receive divine nourishment. He who is eternal entered time so we may gain eternity. He whose richness is unfathomable became impoverished so we may be beneficiaries of the richness of glory. He who is perfect freedom became confined by swaddling cloths so we may become “unswaddled” from our frail humanity, our degradation, failure, and grief. In that great act, he shows us the true freedom of giving ourselves away in love for others, to be bound for the sake of the other.

At Christmas, we celebrate this “great exchange.” Since through the incarnation God has fully participated in our human nature, we therefore have the calling and privilege of participating in his divine nature, being truly “united with God.” May it be so in increasing measure. Thanks be to God! 

May you and yours have a most blessed Christmas celebration!

The Lord be with you,
James R. Hart, President 

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies from 2007-2024.