On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we heard the wonderful story of Jesus' birth from Luke's Gospel-the account of a baby in a stable, of shepherds, and angels in the town of Bethlehem. This is the narrative from one of the four Gospel accounts, the four versions of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
How do the other three accounts of the events of Jesus' birth compare?
The earliest is Mark, whose story begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and which totally ignores the birth and childhood of Jesus.
The next is Matthew, who gives us the account of the star and King Herod and the visit to the stable of the Wise Men with their three gifts.
The fourth account is the one we hear in today's Gospel, from the Evangelist John. John condenses the story into one simple phrase: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." What a different view this is from the detailed stories of Luke and Matthew.
John has no specifics like them -- no manger or shepherds or kings. The view of Matthew and Luke is more like a close up photograph, but John's account has no such details. It is a picture taken from a distance with a very wide-angle lens.
Luke and Matthew give a view that is in microcosm -- as if seen under a microscope, if you will. But John's view is a macrocosm -- as if the event were seen through a telescope. Matthew and Luke tell a very local story. John gives the cosmic context.
John give us this bigger picture to show us what God had done and is doing in the whole world-now and always, not just in that tiny corner of the Earth long ago. John gives us a view of how God moves in the hearts and lives of human beings. This is a truth assuring us that God in Christ is not a stranger to human beings but our eternal companion. This is how God was made known to us. Jesus is the human face of God.
The Incarnation -- God's becoming human -- is the truth by which we find God. As we look at the story of Jesus' birth in Luke and Matthew, we might ask, "What is the point of these birth stories? What is the point of the shepherds and the angels and the Wise Men?"
The essential answer is that Jesus is a flesh and blood person -- just like us -- just like every human being. This is a reminder of God's initiating the relationship with us -- God's movement toward us -- of God's choosing us. This is God coming into our world and into the midst of our lives -- each of us -- whoever and wherever we may be.
John's Gospel account that we hear today is the story of how God became human so that we might know how to be truly human; so the Incarnation, this God becoming human, can serve as an invitation for us to become the very children of God.
John moves us from the wonder of the children's Christmas pageant, from the specific details of the birth in Bethlehem, to the bigger picture, so we may move from the specifics of our lives to the broader view of God's creation.
And for that creation, this Christ born to us and for us, is the light that illumines all: a light wider than any wide-angle lens can capture; a light that shines away all the darkness that evil forces can mass against us.