There are a lot of ways to tell a good story, and we'll likely be hearing at least a few this holiday weekend. We'll listen to reflections on Christmases past. We'll share memories of loved ones no longer with us. Familiar recipes will be exchanged alongside remembrances of the family cooks who first created them.
Some will jovially tell their stories with laughter. Some will whisper their reflections beside the fire.
At the center of it all is another story. It's the story of Jesus, the one whose birth is honored by the holiday we now call Christmas.
There are a lot of ways to tell the story of Jesus. Each of the four gospels of the New Testament enters the story from a different angle.
Mark, the first gospel recorded, begins his telling with Jesus as an adult being baptized by John. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus' family tree. Luke starts his version of the story with the experiences of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. And then there's the Gospel of John.
John has a different approach to storytelling, a rhythm all his own. He is less literal than the other three gospel authors. He takes an alternative approach to reporting the news and a good measure of creative license, too. John invites readers to discover the wonder that exists in the space between literal and figurative, concrete and abstract, reality and dreams.
Right from the cadence of his words in chapter 1, verse, John writes in a way that inspires us to pause and listen. We step away from all the news and non-news in which we are submerged … from our cell phones and screens … from our anxieties and lists.
John begins his telling of the story of Jesus before the manger, before the inn, before the wise men, before the shepherds, before Mary, and before Joseph. John goes back before the sun and the moon and the stars. He takes it all the way back before everything. And he says, "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1).
The Word. John doesn't even call him Jesus at first. He calls him the Word. This introduction is John's way of saying: "This isn't going to be the kind of story you can put in a box."
Journeying with John into the mystery of the Word is like embracing everything we can't explain. It takes vulnerability to step into this space with John. There are times I'd rather not — times I'd rather be able to explain and understand everything. John offers a respite from our fixation on understanding. For him, mysterious is beautiful.
John says that in the Word was life and that life was light — a light that shines in the darkness no matter what. Then John says in chapter 1, verse 14, "The word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth. For from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace."
This is John's unique telling of the Christmas story. It's an alternative sort of nativity scene; one that doesn't lend itself quite as well to figurines. There are no magi in John's story. There are no stars to follow. No shepherds in shock in the middle of a field. John answers the "why" of Christmas more than the "how." He wants his listeners to understand why we honor Jesus' birth … why we retell the story year after year … why it matters.
Jesus was born so that the heart of God could put on skin and walk around radiating truth, so that we'd have access to an eternal light perpetually propelling us forward with hope. In Jesus, we hear the good news that we are worthy of grace, and that God doesn't measure it by the dash or the sprinkle. The story of Jesus is the truth that we dwell in oceans of grace upon grace every second of our existence.
At the core of Christmas is the story of Jesus. No matter how or when you hear it, please know that it is a story for you.
The story of Jesus is a story for all, and it is full of grace upon grace.