The Christmas season is here, and in the coming weeks our churches will be filled with familiar stories about the birth of Christ. We will hear the words of the angel Gabriel as he spoke to Mary. We will hear about visitors from the east following a star. We will meet a paranoid King Herod, and angels announcing the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds.
No room in the inn. Fleeing to Egypt. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. All that stuff.
These are the classic elements of the Christmas story, often represented in our manger scenes, Christmas carols, church plays, and kids' books. And they are all from only two books in the New Testament: the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
But there is another Christmas story in the New Testament – one that is often overlooked. It's hiding in plain sight. It is the dramatic prequel to the Christmas story. There are no wise men or shepherds in this account. No manger. This story is not about those things.
This forgotten Christmas story has everything to do with the eternal supremacy of Christ, and the unfathomable humility of God becoming one of us. It is the cosmic prologue to the Christmas story, and it's found in the first chapter of John.
In John's prologue we read about Christ, though John calls him "The Word." This is not baby Jesus, this is Christ as he existed prior to being born in the flesh in Bethlehem. John rewinds history for us all the way back to the creation account in Genesis 1. In fact, the first words of John's Gospel are "In the beginning" – an obvious and intentional reference to the first words of the Bible.
John wants his readers to be thinking about the creation account when he begins to tell the story of Christ. John begins his Gospel with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
Jesus was intimately involved in creation. Everything that exists was made through Christ. John wants us to grasp the fact that when Jesus appeared on Earth as an infant in Bethlehem, he was not coming into existence for the first time. He was not created at that moment. He had always existed along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and was there when the universe was spoken into existence.
As John continues his masterful prologue, he tells the Christmas story in one powerful, poetic verse:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Word became flesh. That’s the most concise expression of the Christmas story that you’ll find in Scripture. The eternal, cosmic, all-powerful, creator Christ deliberately wrapped himself in the flesh of a human being: bones, tendons, veins, muscles. Jesus left his heavenly home and inhabited human tissue.
That's the cosmic backstory to the stable in Bethlehem. That's the divine prequel to the manger scene. It is the Christ who existed before the Earth was formed. It is the Jesus who was there before there was such a thing as light. It is the Christ who brought the stars into existence - including the one that guided the Magi on their journey to visit him as a newborn.
So as we celebrate Christmas this season, I encourage you to read the first chapter of John and allow the eternal, supreme identity of Christ to soak into your mind and heart. Then, picture that majestic being knowing you, loving you, and deciding to come live the full human experience and die so that you might one day see him in all the splendor he left behind when he showed up in that manger.