Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Sides of the Story

Our texts for this Christmas Eve are Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-16, while our texts for Christmas Day are Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-5, 10-18.

It only happens once every 6 years or so: Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday. On these rare years, those of us in traditions that do not typically worship on Christmas morning (such as we Baptists!) get to pull a double-header, gathering to hear the story, sing the carols, and worship together not just on the candlelit eve of Jesus' birth, but also in the beautiful light of Christmas day.

"Why do we need church on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?" I heard someone ask this week. "Wouldn't once cover it?" shot at the story of Jesus coming to earth, one means of celebrating this event and this work of God is definitely not enough if our Gospel texts for these two holy days are any indication. Luke and John cast two very different lights upon the story of Jesus coming to earth. Honestly, if you read them totally out of context, never having heard them before, would you even know they were accounts of the same tale?

Luke speaks of an event bound to history, taking place in a specific time and moment. It tells of the journey of an ordinary couple through the Judean countryside, birthing a son about whom we are told only three things: he was his mother's firstborn, he was wrapped in rags, and his cradle was a feeding trough. Very earthy stuff. Then, remarkably, angels do announce this child's birth--but still it's just to shepherds, a few guys lurking in nearby fields--more ordinary, lowly people. Interestingly, never is the child given a name in this passage--he is given titles, but never a name.

John's account, on the other hand, hearkens back not to a moment of local history, but to the beginning of all history--his opening words of "In the beginning" exactly mirror the words that began Genesis 1's creation account. Here we learn not about the origins and journey of any ordinary person, but of the Word--the logos--the very wisdom of God, which is now taking on flesh and dwelling among God's people. This Word-made-flesh is not just any human; this Word-made-flesh is showing us the fullness of God, and inviting all who encounter him into fullness of life as God's children. This One who created all is breaking into creation is creating the world--and us--all over again. It's as cosmic as a vision can get, one of a scope beyond our imagination--yet John does take a moment to get direct. This one about whom we are speaking, this Word made flesh? His name is Jesus.

Luke tells the story in prose, in a story that can be acted out by children in costumes; John offers us poetry, words that create space for imagination but paint few concrete pictures. Both inspire awe, imagination, and wonder at a God who seems to do everything except the predictable--yet from totally different sides of the story. So come join us this Christmas Eve (worship at 5 PM!) AND Christmas Day (worship at 10 AM!) as we get the gift of viewing Jesus from both of these perspectives--above us and beside us, among us and all around us, through stories and songs of grace that we can never tell and sing enough. We need both sides of the Jesus story, and this year we actually get to spend time sitting amongst the beauty of both!

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