A Patristic Christmas

Modified from original which was published on December 23, 2010. 

The letter to Diognetus, generally dated between 130 and 200, is by an unknown author to a recipient named Diognetus. Diogentus, who may or may not be a real person, has questions about Christianity that the author tackles in the letter. The questions are found in chapter 1 and can be summarized as:

  1. what God do Christians place their trust in?
  2. what practices do they observe?
  3. why do they reject worldly customs, Greek gods, and Jewish practices?
  4. why do Christians show such love/affection to others?
  5. why has the new religion Christianity entered the world now and not earlier?

In chapter 7 of the letter the author talks about the God we trust sending His Son:

For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things—by whom He made the heavens … This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness.

At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of our Savior. That special time in history when God chose to send His Son (the Word) from heaven to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:1-2,14). That baby that we see lying in the manager of our nativity is ‘the very Creator and Fashioner of all things’ who commands the sun, moon, and stars.The Word through whom all things are made (John 1:3; Heb 1:2) and who embodies grace and truth and holiness.

As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?

For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus into the world to save and not to judge (John 3:16-17, 12:47), to offer grace and mercy and life to those who receive Him. He offers this gift but will not force it on anyone. However the warning is made that when he comes again it will be to judge. Who can stand (Malachi 3:2; Rev 6:17) when Christ is sent again? Only those who have accepted and placed their trust in the One whom God has sent.

and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us,He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave
  • His own Son as a ransom for us,
  • the holy One for transgressors,
  • the blameless One for the wicked,
  • the righteous One for the unrighteous,
  • the incorruptible One for the corruptible,
  • the immortal One for them that are mortal.

For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

The questions posed in this letter remind us that at Christmas – as the worldly customs of trees, Santa, and exchanging gifts swirl by – we need to stop and reflect on that most precious gift – that God loved us enough to send Jesus who is Creator, King, Son, and Savior. We need to stop and praise the God we trust and remember that – like the early Christians – He wants us to be known for the love we have for others because He first loved us (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:19). God sent His best from heaven to dwell among men, may we with the angels proclaim – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).

Note: Quotations are from ANF Volume 1. The first quote listed is from chapter 7, the second quote is from chapter 7 and chapter 10.The third is from chapter 9.

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