The book of John is one of four Gospels in our New Testament: one of four books in the Bible that specifically proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Yet John begins not by connecting his Gospel to the other three Gospels.
The other three Gospels start with the human person Jesus.
The Gospels of both Matthew and Luke begin with stories of the birth of Jesus—in vivid, nitty-gritty, even messy detail. A son is to be born of an unmarried maiden. How scandalous!
Luke goes on to relate that this maiden, Mary, visits her older cousin Elizabeth in some backwater part of the Empire—just two women, laughing and singing—marveling, really—that God should show them such favor at opening their wombs.
The Gospel of Mark—a little different—begins not with Jesus’ birth but with his adult ministry: John the Baptist sets the stage and all at once Jesus is defeating the devil, proclaiming repentance, and healing the broken.
And so, no matter what else is going on in the wide world, these three Evangelists remind us that God is in the nitty-gritty details of our lives.
But the Gospel of John is different: John doesn’t begin with the human person of Jesus; John begins, instead, with Jesus the divine: the logos, the Word.
And in using these words—in the beginning—John connects us not to the other three Gospels but to the very beginning of the Bible, to the creation of all things:
- In the beginning was the Word;
- In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
So, for a little while anyway, let’s set aside what we normally focus on throughout this day—little Jesus, meek and mild; baby Jesus, the Christmas child—and spend some time together contemplating just how these two cosmic events are connected.
Just how is Christmas connected to creation?
Well, for starters, John says, “In the beginning was the Word.” But in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void; and darkness was everywhere. So, where does the Word fit into creation?
Just here: God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God also said, “Let there be dry land”; and there was dry land. And God also said, “Let the waters teem with life”; and it was so. And so on.
God spoke. God used words. And through God’s words—through God’s Word—all came into being that has come into being.
Most of you know by now that I’m a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. There are seven books in this series. The first is called The Magician’s Nephew. In this book, two children fantastically end up in a faraway world, Narnia, on the very day of its birth. What they witness—C. S. Lewis’s description of creation—is creation through song.
At first all is darkness and silence. The children become aware of an almost inaudible music all around them. It’s nothing like any music we’ve ever heard on earth; but there’s no other way to describe it. It’s music.
Almost immediately stars begin to appear in the sky. As more and more appear, the children realize that the music and the appearance of the stars are connected: the music reaches a sustained note for a time just before a star appears; then it changes pitch, sustains, and another star appears.
Abruptly the music grows loud and strong. The children now realize that this isn’t just any old music, but song: these are words they are hearing, sung words; in some language—some beautiful language—they don’t know.
All at once, in response to the loud and strong song, a moon appears in the sky; followed by a still louder and stronger song for a time and the sudden appearance of the sun.
Now, dazzled by the sudden appearance of such a bright, young sun, the children look into the distance and see a figure approaching. It is the singer of this wonderful song: a lion, Aslan (they will soon learn his name). Aslan is singing all things into existence. And Aslan, if you know anything about the story at all, is an allegory of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word. And God said—or, maybe, and the Word sang—Let there be light. And there was.
This is how C. S. Lewis imagined it. But why not? John’s Gospel is highly poetic. Why not build on John’s image of poetry by imagining all things being sung into existence?
The Word was with God. And the Word was God. And the Word—spoken, written, sung, it doesn’t matter—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.
Another connection between creation and Christmas: in Genesis we read that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; and in John we read, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
What did light do at creation?
Before light was spoken into existence, the earth was formless and void; and darkness covered everything.
Darkness covering everything shows up in another book from The Chronicles of Narnia: in The Last Battle, the seventh and final book. Here the reader witnesses the final day of Narnia, as it is snuffed out forever. And, of course, this book relates the final judgment.
All creation is summoned to Aslan. And by all I mean all: sun, moon, stars, people, animals, plants, even mythical beasts who have long lain dormant awaiting this final day. All creation came into being by the Word of God; now all creation must answer to its Creator.
At last, after days or weeks or maybe somehow only a few minutes, all of creation has passed by Aslan and looked into his face; all creation has gone on either to Aslan’s left or his right. And the reader gets one last glimpse through a doorway of the old Narnia.
But the reader sees nothing, only blackness. For through the doorway there is only absolute darkness—no more sun, no more moon, no more stars, no more life of any sort whatsoever—can you imagine? And with absolute darkness comes absolute zero. The world of Narnia that once thrived is now dead. There is no source of heat, no source of light, no source of life.
At creation, light did away with darkness. It provided heat. It provided life.
At Christmas a new light has shone forth. Christmas has brought new life to this old creation.
One more connection between creation and Christmas: the Word of God, this new source of life, has become flesh and dwells among us.
Think back to creation. Where was God’s dwelling place? Where did God dwell among us? Wasn’t it in the Garden of Eden, right alongside the Tree of Life?
And where does Jesus dwell among us today?
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan shows up in every book. And it’s not always as people expect—it’s not always in the flesh. Occasionally he shows up on the page of a book; or a person thinks she sees him briefly out of the corner of her eye; or he shows up in another person’s dream. He’s not a tame lion, you know.
But that’s just John’s point. Jesus shows up where we would expect him too, right here in church—the Garden of Eden for the new age. But he also shows up when and where we don’t expect him—in a conversation with a stranger, or at the dinner table when we’re simply laughing with friends. He is the Word, after all.
On the flip side, sometimes he doesn’t show up when we expect him too; or he shows up in a different way than we ever expected, and only later we realize we missed him. We can’t put a box around Jesus. Aslan’s not a tame lion.
Christmas, then, is not just the story of God coming into the world in some backwater part of the Roman Empire. Today we don’t just remember that God is involved in the intimate details of each of our lives. Looking at Christmas through the eyes of St. John the Evangelist—and with some help from that modern evangelist, C. S. Lewis—today we see that Christmas is much more. Today, we see clearly that Christmas is smack dab in the middle of the grand sweep of salvation history.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And thus we’ve crossed the great threshold of time. The old is passing away; the new is here!