During the Christmas season I usually spend time contemplating what makes this time of year merry. As a Christian, my focus is on a baby born in a manger nearly 2000 years ago. What bearing does it have on merrymaking that a child was born in poverty so long ago?
One word in particular keeps coming to mind. That word is truth. John’s Gospel tells us that the child is God, the Word made flesh, who came full of grace and truth. Years later when the child grew up, he announced that the truth he proclaimed would bring freedom.
Truth brings freedom? Do we really believe this? The extent to which we lie indicates that we actually believe truth brings bondage. Why do children lie about stealing a cookie, politicians about their marital infidelity, or loved ones about taking illegal substances? We lie because we believe the truth won’t set us free. If we tell the truth things will go bad for us. We’ll lose the freedom we desire. We run from truth.
There are also times we tell the truth and experience the bondage we fear. Telling the truth has led to the loss of jobs, freedom, and even life. It’s hard to believe truth brings liberty when our experience so often tells us a different story. Truth can be painful.
Add to this our relativistic understanding of truth. In our postmodern and pluralistic culture, there is no absolute truth; rather, truth is up to the individual. What’s true for you might not be true for me. The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths.
Let’s face it. Truth is not popular. Look at two examples from the holiday season that highlight this. First, why is there such a push to take “Christ” out of Christmas? I believe it is because the basis of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is a unique and absolute truth claim. If Jesus is the only way to God and heaven, that excludes all other ways. This is not a politically or culturally correct belief. Who is Jesus, and who are Christians, to tell others that their understanding of truth is wrong?
A second example comes from the 1994 rendition of Miracle on 34th Street. Bryan Bedford, the attorney defending Santa Claus, asks the judge, “Is it better to tell a lie that brings a smile, or a truth that brings a tear?” with the clear implication that a happy falsehood is better than a sad truth. This is a sobering and enlightening commentary on our culture. We’d rather feel illusions of happiness and freedom in a lie than feel sad or constricted by the truth.
Yet the irony is we affirm that which we deny. In our running from truth and denying any absolute truth standard, we affirm that absolute truth exists. This is because “the very affirmation that all truth is unknowable is itself presented as a truth affirmation. As a truth statement purporting that no truth statement can be made it undercuts itself.”
Just as the denial of absolute truth undercuts itself, running from truth never lives up to the freedom and pain-free life we hope for. The more we run from the truth, choosing to live a lie, the deeper our bondage becomes. Who hasn’t heard the heartbreaking stories of damages caused by affairs, or seen someone destroy their life with a drug addiction they refuse to acknowledge exists? Sooner or later, when we exchange truth for a lie, we fall into a trap that is often inescapable.
So far none of this conjures up warm fuzzy feelings of merriment during the holiday season. This is where the uniqueness of the Christmas message, the birth of a baby boy so long ago, steps into the defiance, pain, and confusion that often surrounds truth.
When the Christ Child became a Man, he defined truth for us in a very profound and shocking way, “I am the truth.” He didn’t say he was a truth among many, nor had some true things to say. He claimed to be the Truth. This is the height of arrogance, the climax of insanity, or the clearest understanding of reality ever given. It’s one thing to claim to know something true. It’s something entirely different to claim that truth is defined in a Person and you are that Person.
In claiming to be the Truth, Jesus made himself to be the one who clearly and accurately defines for us life and reality. In other words, he claimed to be God. And if God exists, than he is eternal, sovereign, and all-knowing. This means only he has the final say on truth. Therefore, to know absolute Truth one must know Jesus Christ.
If Jesus is the Truth then our understanding of freedom and bondage is radically changed as well. Jesus said he came to offer fullness of life, joy, and peace, making it possible for us to receive his offer through the triumph of his death and resurrection. If it is truth that sets free, and he is that truth, then freedom, life, joy, and peace must come from him.
For those who believe Jesus’ claim, this is a reason to be merry at Christmas. The Truth, Jesus, offers to set you free. His truth shines like a beacon of hope into the darkness of the lies that have ensnared us. Far from the bondage we fear, the child born in a manger brings life in the fullest sense of the word. This is truly tidings of comfort and joy.