Christmas 3: Truth at Christmas

Christmas meditation 3

truth became flesh

Augustine on the truth of Christmas

Nativity scene by Bonnie Follette

In the previous Christmas meditation we studied word by word (logos) in the opening chapter of the Gospel of Remembrance, as the Gospel of John begins. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).

Then look at what happens in verse 14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What is so amazing here is this word (logos) and truth (Alethia) become flesh.

In our previous Christmas meditation we tried to listen to the Word of God. Here we turn to the truth. And we turn again to Saint Augustine. This time to Augustine’s sermon 185 on the truth at Christmas.

Augustine on the truth of Christmas

Icon of Augustine. Augustine-by-the-Sea.

Augustine writes. “We celebrate this day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘Truth has come forth from the earth, and righteousness has looked down from heaven.’[Ps.84:12] The truth that exists eternally in the womb of the father sprung out of the earth so that it could also exist in a mother’s womb. The truth that holds the world in place sprung from the earth to be carried in a woman’s hands. The truth that incorruptibly nourishes the happiness of angels sprung from the earth to be nourished by human milk. The truth that heaven cannot contain has sprung from the earth to be laid in a manger. To whom did such unprecedented greatness come in such lowliness? Certainly not for personal gain, but definitely for our greater good if we only believe. Rise, O mankind; for you God became man. ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall enlighten thee.’[Eph.5:14]”

The very truth that makes angels happy is now being carried gently in the hands of an earthly woman. Greatness has appeared in lowliness. Eternity has appeared in time. Life appeared in death.

Pilate’s question: what is truth?

In an earlier one Patheos post, we asked with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” in John 18:38. Elsewhere, in John 14:6, we find Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” What does “truth” mean here? And everywhere we use this word?

If truth is propositional, then the claim – “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life” – could be either true or false. How might we measure the truth or falsity of this statement? Answer: based on what appears. Based on what turned out to be real.

In the Johannine passages quoted above, notice the Greek word for truth, Alteheia. The philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) analyzed this term. He realized how Alteheia means revealing or uncovering or revealing, discovery. Truth is an event in which something hidden becomes unhidden, insecurity.

Oddly enough, sometimes revealing one truth requires hiding another truth. This leads to an ongoing dialectic of revealing and concealing. Pontius Pilate could face the truth and not see it.

What’s next?

O come Emmanuel

house to house for christmas

Christmas blues

Christmas 1: God wished for a whore with John Chrysostom

Christmas 2: The Word became flesh with St. Augustine

Christmas 3: Truth about Christmas with St. Augustine

Christmas 4: Mean Estate with Martin Luther

Conclusion: truth about Christmas

The poet William Butler Yeats said, “Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it.”[1] Could that help us interpret Christmas?

For Christmas truth (aletheia) became flesh (sarx). How did we see the truth? With suggestions? no In dogmas? no In arguments? no

The truth came in the form of a person. The truth came in the form of a vulnerable infant being cradled by its earthly mother. In Jesus, truth is revealed and hidden at the same time.

Teddy Peters

Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and Professor Emeritus at the Graduate Theological Union. He is co-editor of the journal, theology and science, with Robert John Russell on behalf of the Center for Theology and Science in Berkeley, California, USA. His one-volume Systematic Theology, God – the future of the world, is now in the 3rdapprox edition. He also wrote Sin: Radical evil in soul and society as well as Sin Courageously: Justifying Faith for Frail and Broken Souls. See his website:

Watch out for Ted’s new book 2023, The voice of public theology, published by ATF Press.

[1] “The Church is first of all the body of Christ—the embodiment of His truth—and cannot be distinguished by counting those who assent to certain dogmas. The life of the Church was its ability to produce people who base their lives on the paradigm of the Gospels, the saints and martyrs, even humble and obscure, who have constantly renewed it and are renewing it today.” Robert N. Bellah, Unbelievable (New York: Harper, 1970) 221.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *