We all know it, or some version of it. Girl gets pregnant, but not by the guy who takes her to a barn in the middle of the night to deliver the baby. Some wisemen show up… they’re greeted by a bunch of shepherds singing Hallelujah with a choir of angles. And sometimes there’s a little boy pounding on a drum.
Of the four gospels, only three mention the Christmas story. Each one tells their version of it, revealing who this baby truly is. The son of man, the son of God. The long-awaited Messiah. The one who will save his people from their sins.
Luke’s version is the one we are probably most familiar with. It’s the one with the manger, the shepherds, and the angels. Instead of a birth story, Matthew gives us magi and some dramatic backstory to let his readers know the prophetic promise has been fulfilled.
And then there’s John’s version. Anyone looking for the traditional will be sadly disappointed to learn that John doesn’t seem to care about Christmas carols, hot cocoa, or crabby old curmudgeons who have a change of heart.
John’s version is different because John is different. He’s a theologian and mystic who speaks of the nativity from his understanding of ancient scripture, and the holy imagination of his prayers. Here’s how he tells it.
The same light from the first incarnation is present at the second. This is God’s light. The same one foretold by Isaiah’s prophetic vision. The light that shines on those who live in darkness.
This is the same holy light that broke through the night sky and grabbed the attention of the shepherds.
The same wondrous light that illuminated the heavens and guided the magi to Christ. The very light that John declares, “was the life of everyone.”
The light that began it all, is the light we honor tonight. For it’s in this light we are able to see God’s truth, enfleshed in the body of this holy baby. And the Word became flesh and lived among us - enlightening us and illuminating the world to see God’s grace and truth. In his light, no darkness can prevail. We all know what darkness is, and what it can produce in us.
Years ago, I spent the night at my friend’s old warehouse apartment in downtown Los Angeles. Because he worked odd hours, he chose the bedroom with no windows. When I turned out the lights, it was so dark I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I’m not going to lie, but I’m not a big fan of spaces that are void of light. They cause me great anxieties.
Thankfully, just before I went into full blown panic mode, I noticed a small green glow coming off his laptop charger. I kept my eyes fixed on that light, as I felt my heart pound against my chest. I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually my eyes began to adjust. And I started seeing just enough for my heart to relax so I could fall asleep.
We know darkness, and the anxiety and despair that comes with it. John and the others make sure to point our attention not to fields or fold, but to the heavens…to that one true bright Christmas light. The one that begins to shine —suddenly, quietly, but with absolute certainty. A light no darkness can overcome.
This light might be small for some, and mighty for others. But in its glow is the mystery of God’s truth revealed. And the Word became flesh and lives among us. The longer we keep our eye on it, the more enlightened we become to what that means for you and me.
So even though there are different versions of the Christmas story, they all point to the same visible, tangible divine light that illuminates our way to God.
That light is Christ who breaks the darkness apart so we can begin to see God’s love and truth clearly for the first time - in real time, in real ways. In his light we can see and understand who we are. And who we were created to be - God’s beloved children. As God’s children, we are called to radiate like Christ in the varied ways we love God, love others, and serve both.
John will later explain that we are given this light to help us see just how much God loves us. Because that’s the real Christmas story - God’s love for us.
In Christ, God’s love is revealed by taking on human form in order to transform human hearts. He is the visible, tangible, flesh of God’s light and love. Through him we have been given the power to take our place in the infinite space where God’s never-ending light radiates.
And the word became flesh and lived among us…For God so loved the world that God sent the Son - not to condemn us but to redeem us and return us to God’s holy and sacred heart.
This is the Christmas story. This is our story. Each one of us will tell it differently, because we all come from different places. And different needs. But no matter how different we are, we are all given the same. The same light. The same love. The same saving grace that shines from God’s heart to yours and mine.
This is the light of Christ. Whoever is guided by it will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
"Now may God grant you the light in Christmas, which is faith; the warmth of Christmas, which is love the all of Christmas, which is Christ. Amen."
A special thanks to James Liggett whose sermon The Same Story inspired this sermon.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Lanham: Crowley Publications, 1999).
*Benediction by Wilda English
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”