When John sets out to write the Christmas story, it reads way different than Luke’s or Matthew’s.
“This is how the birth of Jesus came about,” is how Matthew starts. And he talks about an angel talking to Joseph.
Luke starts by explaining that “since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account. . .so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Then he talks about John the Baptist, the person before Jesus.
Those are the ways that we usually think about Christmas. The celebration, the announcements to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, the baby, the manger, the shepherds, the wise men. Those stories are easy to imagine and to tell.
But John tells it differently.
“In the beginning,” he says. It sounds a little like Luke and Matthew. But it sounds even more like Genesis.
“In the beginning God created” is how that story starts.
And John says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
John tells us that this story didn’t start with a message from an angel to Joseph or to Mary or to Zechariah. This story goes all the way back before there was anything.
This present took a long time to wrap. The celebration took forever to plan.
Every detail, every clue, every invitation.
Working with people and in spite of people.
Picking a family to serve as hosts and watching generation after generation lose focus, regain it, lose it and regain it.
And then, John says, when the Word, Jesus, put on a body and started walking around, many of the people who had received invitations to the festivities didn’t recognize him at all.
Because he didn’t look like a king or a savior. He came in the middle of the night, in the middle of ordinary people, in the middle of normal life. And his life didn’t look like a party. It looked like hard work, long conversations, solitude and crowds and fighting storms and religious leaders and misunderstandings.
Because Jesus didn’t come appear at religious ceremonies like a spirit summoned through incantations, he came to live inside human life. To help us understand that God is with us, Emmanuel, in the middle of the boring weeks of healing, in the painful days of bad news, in the joyous days of birth.