A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
As we approach Christmas each year, Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, holly, angels, ribbons, etc., overwhelm us.
People talk about putting "Christ back into Christmas," but most of us have no idea what that would mean. Who is Jesus Christ?
This is a good question. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ states that Jesus Christ is the "sole head of the church." Jesus Christ is "Son of God." Jesus Christ is the savior of humanity.
What does that mean?
Christians have been debating about Jesus Christ for a long time. In the first century the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him to tell them who he was. He did not answer directly. He told them to look at his work and decide for themselves.
After Jesus was crucified, and his disciples became convinced that he was still alive, controversies about the nature of Jesus Christ raged. Christians said that although a truly human Jesus really did die on the cross, Jesus Christ was from and of God from the very beginning. He had overcome death and was still alive with God.
Thinking about Jesus Christ in this way was not logical, but it was (and still is) theological.
Jesus Christ is just like all of us, fully and completely human, and at the same time Jesus Christ is fully and completely Divine.
When the UCC says that Jesus Christ is the sole head of the church it affirms this mystery. We are not simply followers of some great human leader or prophet, we are a people actively engaged by and saved through the mystery of "incarnation" (God in the carnal, or flesh). We live under the headship of "Emmanuel" (God with us).
On Christmas Day in Rome in the year 448 C.E., a Christian Pope named Leo I preached a sermon on the "two natures of Christ." Most of us don't think of Pope Leo I as part of UCC history, yet he is. He reminded those 5th-century Christians (and he reminds us) that in Jesus Christ "each nature continued with its own characteristics, but so close a unity was established between them that the divine was inseparable from the humanity and the human indivisible from the divinity."
In this Advent season, as we sing carols about this mystery and light candles in wonder, it is appropriate to ponder what it actually means to say that Jesus Christ is the "sole head" of the United Church of Christ.
Church historian the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is the series editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ. Currently, she is a missionary associate for the Global Ministries Board. She teaches American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.