Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar,” Paul writes (Rom. 3:4). Paul’s statement could serve as a summary of the entire Bible and of the good news of Christmas in particular.
God makes promises to Abraham and, through him, to Israel, and seals them with a self-committing oath. As the letter to the Hebrews says, men and women swear by something greater than themselves. Since there’s nothing greater than God, he swears by his own name, giving us assurance by “two unchangeable things”—his own nature as the God of truth and his covenant oath (Heb. 6:13–18). Karl Barth put the point dramatically: God’s choice of Abraham is his free self-determination to be the God who makes and keeps promises. Once he speaks and swears, he determines he will not be God at all unless he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.
At the heart of God’s self-commitment is the promise of Immanuel, “God with us.” The name appears only a handful of times in the Old Testament (Isa. 7:10, 14; 8:8), each time, rather surprisingly, in prophecies directed to King Ahaz of Judah. Yet “I will be with you” runs as a refrain throughout the Bible. Yahweh is with Isaac (Gen. 26:3), Jacob (31:3), Moses (Exod. 3:12), and Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:5). If Israel keeps covenant, the Lord tells Israel, he will “make my dwelling among you” and “walk among you” (Lev. 26:11–12). His presence takes architectural shape in the tabernacle and temples. When Israel is scattered into exile, Yahweh pledges to be with them as they pass through water and fire, so they will not be drowned, scorched, or burned (Isa. 43:1–2).
Yahweh is God with Israel, but not merely for Israel. He settles in Israel to bless the Gentiles through them (Gen. 12:3). As Israel’s light, he makes Israel luminous. When at last his glory rises over Israel, nations will stream to Jerusalem and kings to the brightness of Israel’s rising (Isa. 60:1–3).
Israel’s history, though, is largely one of defiant disobedience. Israel turns to other gods, refuses to trust the Lord’s word, and defiles his land and temple until Israel is dismantled, losing land, temple, king—in short, nearly everything that makes Israel Israel. As Paul says, Israel exists to be a corrector of the foolish, guide to the blind, light in the darkness, but instead breaks the commandments of Torah. Instead of eliciting praise from the nations, Israel causes “the name of God [to be] blasphemed among the Gentiles” (Rom. 2:24, quoting Isa. 52:5). Entrusted with the oracles of God to teach the nations, Israel proves unfaithful (Rom. 3:2–3).
Israel’s failure to carry out the mission doesn’t keep Yahweh from fulfilling it. “Their unfaithfulness will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” Paul asks. Of course not. Even when God’s own people echo the world’s lies, broken promises, betrayals, and shattered covenants, God is true. Even if every man is a liar, God cannot deny himself. He will be with his people. He will shine light through them to the nations. We can’t stop him from being and doing what he will be and do. With us or without us, God is true.
Christmas confirms the unrelenting reliability of God. Jesus is Immanuel (Matt. 1:23); in him, God is with us in unfathomable intimacy, near enough to be a neighbor, near enough for the apostles to see, hear, touch, handle (1 John 1:1–4). Jesus is the “sunrise from on high” (Luke 1:78), heavenly light made flesh to shine into the darkness, so truth can break through the murky swirl of lies.
Christmas brings merry tidings of comfort and joy. Jesus is the Savior, the “horn of salvation in the house of David his father” (Luke 1:69) who brings salvation by the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). To aged Simeon, Jesus is salvation made visible (Luke 2:30). But Christmas is preeminently about God. Jesus’s existence reveals the kind of God God is. God isn’t thwarted by our failure or sin. The Son’s advent is the supreme proof: God is true.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.
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