Wineskins Archive

January 8, 2014

The Nativity: The Word Finally Spoken (Nov 1992)

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by Michael Card
November, 1992

7When we speak of the nativity of Jesus of Nazareth we invariably turn to the pages of Matthew or Luke. There we find wise men and shepherds, a stable and a star, the scenery of Christmas. Rarely if ever do we go to John’s Gospel during December. The prologue of John, which speaks so wonderfully of the ncarnation, has largely been relegated to theological discussion and debate. There is no smell of the stable about it.

“There are no birth narratives in the Gospel of John,” my professors at the university would always say. John, writing his Gospel last, systematically excludes stories from the synoptics and inserts new ones resulting in the fact that 92 percent of the content of his book is unique. While I see no need to challenge that point of view, I wonder if there is more going on in the prologue than selective remembering on John’s part.

He is the last living apostle. Peter is long dead, crucified upside down. James, his own brother, is gone too. Even Paul, who came so late to faith, has lost his head to Nero. The young believers in John’s community no doubt regarded him with a particular awe. “That’s him,” they would reverently whisper, “the elder, the one He loved!”

John has had a lifetime to look back, to ponder in his own heart all the wondrous things Jesus had said and done. Mary, Jesus’ mother, has been a part of his extended family for no one knows how long. So she too, had been with him. The features of her face perhaps reminding him of Jesus, her smile, her sense of humor, her gentle laught perhaps, constantly reminding John of the man he so loved and longed to see again.

When he finally sits down to write his account, as he replays all the events of the birth which Mary has no doubt recounted to him again and again, what John decides to speak about is not the scenery or the sets of the nativity. He goes straight to the heart of the matter. When he tells us about the One he calls the Word and his “coming” into this dark world two words come to the surface of his mind: Light and Life.

These two concepts, attributes, qualities, are what John remembers most clearly about him. He remembers the sound, moreover the tone of Jesus’ voice as he referred to himself by both these names. Of all that he is to John and to us, He is Light and He is Life.

“In him was life,” John writes. He was not merely alive, though he was certainly that. Mary remembers the sound of his cry. But more than that, infinitely more, life was in him. Life that was more than breathing and a heartbeat, but whatever it is that breathing and beating hearts are a result of, Life, the very thing itself, was in him. He was it; Life had come alive. It was in him so he had it to give. In fact, that is precisely why he had come.

“That Life was the Light of men,” John scratches onto the parchment. He pushes himself back from the desk and remembers a thousand examples of the truth of what he has just written. Remembers dark people who after a simple word or a touch went away with this same light alive on their faces. Remembers how this light first came blazing into his own personal darkness when Jesus asked, “What do you want?” Life that was alive and that was light. That is what he was.

There is, I believe, a birth narrative in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. It is only one verse but it says as much about Jesus as the other narratives, though it doesn’t contain as much information.

“The Light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.”

This is John’s nativity. It should be read before Matthew and Luke because it prepares us to hear them more clearly. In one sense it contains them both. The Light that Jesus is shines into, around, and above the darkness of the stable, the darkness of the world, and the deep darkness of our own hearts. But it is not understood, not by the wise men, nor the simple shepherds, nor by you and me. We cannot comprehend how Light and Life can be alive in a person. No one can. We are left, like the wise men and the shepherds, to adore and to wonder how this can be, to pray for the Life to come to life in us and ask God to let this person who is the Light shine in our own hearts this Christmas … forever.Wineskins Magazine

Michael Card

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