From the four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have two sets of Christmas stories. When we combine the stories from Matthew and Luke, we have the visual scenes of the journey to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph with the baby in a manger. There are sheep and shepherds, angels and choirs of angels, and wise men bearing gifts by the light of a star. This is the familiar Christmas story. We can see those scenes, we can imagine them. Once again on Christmas Eve we heard that beloved account of Jesus' birth.
Now today, we have the other story from the book of John. We cannot see or imagine this story, this story cannot be drawn or painted, and you won't find it on a Christmas card.
There is a website of famous paintings of Biblical stories assembled by categories. On the theme of Jesus' birth there can be found 500 paintings. The highly picturesque stories from Matthew and Luke can be visualized and painted. Do you suppose there are any paintings based on John 1:1-18? No, not a one. How could an artist paint this story that is so abstract and philosophical, this story that is deeper, richer, higher and more wonderful? No wonder it sets our minds spinning.
Listening to this short paraphrase may be helpful. "In the beginning of time, there was the mind of the universe, and this mind was with God and this mind was God. Everything that was made, even light and life, was made by the mind of the universe. In the fullness of time, when the time was just right, the mind of the universe became a human being and he was full, absolutely full of the grace and truth of God. And we actually saw it. We gazed at the glorious presence of the only begotten Son of the Father and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. (From the writings of Edward Markquart).
Let's walk through this passage of scripture to see what we can discover anew, somewhat like we do in Bible Study. Each time I read or study this passage, I'm reminded that "Word", here capitalized, is not merely a means of expression, it is much more than that. Word or the Greek “Logos” conveys the rationality, purpose, thought and expression of God's creative intent.
Our story begins, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. John is laying the groundwork for the pre-existence of Jesus, who was with God before the creation of the universe. Jesus was the thought, mind and expression behind the universe. Before the beginning of time and creation Jesus was with God, Jesus the Word was God. In him was life and light, so great the darkness could not over power it.
But his own people did not accept him. Who would think, a baby born to such a simple young woman, with Joseph at her side, a burping, wailing baby who kept them up at night for days and weeks, this is God?
According to the story teller, John Shea, a five year old girl, named Sharon, offered her own version of the Christmas story. She asked her listeners this question, "Then the baby was borned and do you know who he was?" "The baby was God," she whispered. Then she twirled around, dove onto the sofa and buried her head in the pillows.
This is what John tells us in his Christmas story, the baby was God. Ordinary words just weren't sufficient for him. The mystery and wonder of God coming to live with common folds just like us called forth poetic words of beauty beyond everyday language.
Many people could not accept Jesus, yet thousands and thousands did and so today we are still telling the story and still claiming the gift of being God's children. The scripture continues, "And the word became flesh and set up his shelter among us." Imagine that, God in Jesus became flesh and bone like us and he lives with us and among us even today.
In our Christian religion, unlike every other religion in the world, we believe that God in the flesh of Jesus actually became a real life human being and occupies the same space that we do. Jesus was a true, authentic, real human being. We find God in Jesus' birth, baptism, teachings, parables, miracles, suffering and death. In order to see God, see the flesh and blood Jesus. "We have seen his glory," John tells us. Have you ever known or felt the shining glory of God?
This past week, I noticed the clouds parting and the sunlight breaking through. We haven't enjoyed much sunlight lately, so it does catch one's attention. Within minutes the clouds gathered again, though not totally over shadowing the sun's rays, and a rainbow appeared right outside our kitchen window. It was so lovely I just stood there in awe filled with God's beauty and presence. I might have missed that moment, I might have been down stairs loading the washing machine. But this time I saw it. How many times have I been too preoccupied, too busy, too filled with the cares of the world to see or know God's shining presence?
Finally we come to this reassuring promise, "From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace." Grace is a gift, a gift of abundant gracious love. You don't earn it, you don't work for it, you don't deserve it. All we need do is accept it.
The Christmas Gospel is that God showers his gracious love on all of us on the whole earth, on the whole universe.
We love the Christmas stories that we can easily visualize as in our lovely crèche-- Mary, Joseph and the baby--but today in the Gospel from John we hear none of that. There are no paintings of John's story, not one. Instead we heard, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace, one blessing after another. AMEN