This is the final part of my ‘Advent Series’ looking at the openings of the four Gospels. Matthew had a Christmas list, Mark forgot about Christmas and Luke reminded us we have to say yes to Christmas.
Now, what about John? John is very different indeed, and gets to the real meaning of Christmas.
Behind the Tinsel
First, it’s fair to say that we Christians can sometimes sound like a broken record at Christmas time. We are forever telling ourselves and others not to get so ‘caught up’ in all the festivities of the season that we forget the real meaning of Christmas.
We can sometimes sound a little ‘Bah, humbug’ about the whole thing, as if having fun should be discouraged. And at times the sentiment seems to be that non-Christians have no reason to enjoy Christmas because if you take Jesus out of it then what’s left? In truth, if you take Jesus out of it you’re left with great food, presents, parties, family festivities and lots of fun. What’s not to enjoy?!
But, all that said, there is more. We shouldn’t avoid the fun. We should let all the celebrations point us to the simple truth that there is something worth celebrating, moving past the tinsel. But moving on to what?
Behind the Nativity
It could be tempting to say it’s the nativity story we need to remember. Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc. All very important stuff. But I don’t think that’s what we should focus on at all.
This may sound controversial, but hear me out. In the same way people can put all the trappings of the season ahead of the Christmas story, we Christians sometimes put the pretty Nativity story ahead of the real meaning of Christmas.
As we’ve seen in Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is more to the Christmas story than the events themselves and the characters involved. John only goes to make that more abundantly clear, in his first 14 verses. He doesn’t mention Mary or Joseph, shepherds or wise men, angels, inns, or any of it! But does he tell the Christmas story? Oh yes!
John gets to the story behind the story. The events of Jesus physical birth are of course important, but there’s something even more important: God became a human.
John takes us right back to the before the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is speaking of the essence of the Godhead, the second person of the Trinity. John describes Him as the creator of the whole world, a light shining in darkness that cannot be overcome, full of grace and truth. This is big stuff, and there isn’t a donkey in sight.
The REAL meaning of Christmas
So when you get behind the tinsel to see the Nativity story, and then behind the Nativity, where do you get? Perhaps the real meaning of Christmas is summed up here in John 1:14,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Into a world gone wrong, in rebellion against its Maker and spiralling out of control, the Maker steps in. Not to destroy and punish us, adding to our darkness. He comes as one of us, shining light into the darkness. He comes to reveal God to us, to show us all we have wrong. He comes to reveal who we are to us, and what a life lived well means. He comes to restore and redeem, but He does it all by walking our road, knowing our joys and pains firsthand. He identifies with us.
God didn’t expect us to ascend to Him. He descended to us.
God didn’t leave us in our lies. He revealed His truth.
God didn’t abandon us to judgment. He extended His grace.
This is the real meaning of Christmas: the incarnation, God became flesh. He left His throne and became unimaginably small.
Of course when we get to that heart, the events surrounding His birth take on far deeper significance. When it’s not just a pretty story, but a description of how God chose to orchestrate His coming into our world – wow!