Archives for January 2015
Text: John 1:1-18
This past week, Nora and I went to see the movie Wild. Based on a true story, the movie is about a young woman, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon), who is driven to the edge by the loss of her beloved mother, the dissolution of her marriage and a headlong dive into self-destructive behavior. She makes the decision to halt her downward spiral and put her life back together again. With no outdoors experience, a heavy backpack and little else to go on but her own will, Cheryl set out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail—one of the country’s longest and toughest through-trails. If you miss the movie you can read Cheryl’s memoir: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I highly recommend it.
When Nora and I got home Karla asked us about the movie. Nora, without hesitation, responded: “It was about a woman who was trying to do what her mother wanted her to do.” I was a bit taken aback by her response given that I would have started in a number of different places with my own interpretation and description of the movie. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong or untrue about Nora’s take-away—in fact, I think there was a lot of truth in her statement. However, I probably would have said something like: it was about a woman who decided to hike over a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone as a way to heal herself and focus her life following the death of her mother, her divorce, and falling into drug use. As the night went on, I kept thinking about Nora’s response as well as my own and how it seemed quite possible that each of us interpreted the movie and placed meaning where we most connected with the story.
And so it is with the story of Christmas for the gospel writers. In Matthew and Luke, the Christmas narratives that we are most familiar with, Jesus’ birth is detailed with angels and shepherds, with stars and star-gazers, with a young maiden and her soon to be husband, with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and with animals gathered around a lowly manger where the new babe was laid at birth. Matthew and Luke tell the story with rich images that capture our imaginations. They give us props with which to retell the story over and over again. They make the story come alive in ways that would make any Hollywood producer envious. The writers of Matthew and Luke spare no details in the telling of Jesus’ birth.
In stark contrast, stands the writer of John’s gospel. John’s “Christmas story” dallies not with angels or shepherds and seems to know nothing of a young mother or magi. Indeed, John’s story is hardly about the birth of Jesus at all but instead focuses on the difference that birth makes for all of us. John is focused on meaning, not detail. He cares not about the descriptive essence of the story but rather goes straight to the definition—the meaning behind the birth of Jesus.