He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit….
These are the words of Iranaeus a second century church father and apologist. Since the earliest days of the Christian church the four gospels have been seen as four perspectives of one account. During this advent and Christmas season we will no doubt hear again the most well-known aspects of the Nativity story – a manger, animals, and angels. But I’ll try to offer a little perspective each week as well, presenting some nuance and sometimes overlooked perspective each gospel writer portrays.
John: God’s Christmas is Eternal
I am always reminded at Christmastime what it felt like as a child to wake up with wonder and joy on Christmas Day. Most Christmases when I was young, I was so excited that I hardly slept at all the night before. I could not wait for mom and dad to finally get out of bed and invite us downstairs for presents and fun, breakfast and music, the fireplace and a great day together. As that joy-filled day inevitably drew to a close there was always a small let down for me, realizing the same feelings wouldn’t be repeated for an entire year.
As we grow older, our perspective on Christmas may change. For me, the joy of Christmas has shifted away from presents and has become more about time together with family and the beauty of worship services and cheer that lead up to Christmas day. It is still a time of year I am sad to leave behind, especially as I am now starting to see Christmas anew through the eyes of my own children.
For those of us who love Christmas and everything this season is about, John’s Gospel is one that should give great hope. In many ways the Gospel of John stands unique compared to the three Synoptics, and his Christmas message is unique as well. John tells us that because of Christ’s birth into the world, God’s Christmas is eternal.
John’s gospel is a poetic account of the Savior entering human history. Instead of giving detail of Jesus’ birth, his parents, his ancestry, or his hometown, John stars with the words “In the beginning.” “The beginning of what,” we might ask? “In the beginning of everything” is the gospel writer’s response. John immediately ties Jesus’ birth to the beginning of all creation, the beginning of human history, and the beginning of God’s work in the world. This is now the “long expected Jesus” who was promised of old. Not only that, John refers to Jesus as the “Word,” a title loaded with meaning and significance for the Jewish audience of John’s day.
In this way John immediately points to Christ as being not just another prophet of old, a priest leading worship, or a king who came to rule. Jesus was different. He is the Incarnate Word of God, and very God, himself. John goes further by hinting at the fact that this Son of God was also the glory of God come to dwell among us. No longer was faithful worship dependent upon a tabernacle, a temple, or the Holy of Holies, now God’s glory was among us, and we among him. Jesus came to bridge the gap between God and man once and for all.
The four gospels are all different. Each author carefully chooses to include certain details. Together they become the fullness of God’s revelation of his Son, so that we might know him and worship him and make him our own. Really, of the four Gospel accounts, there is only on conclusion – Jesus is sufficient. Intellectually, as Matthew tells us, the Christmas story is a historical event. Personally, according to Mark, the Christmas story calls for our repentance. Emotionally, according to Luke, the Christmas story invites us to worship. Eternally, according to John, the Christmas story makes our future certain as we have a place in God’s Kingdom.