Summary: While most Nativity plays at our SS Christmas programs focus on Matthew and Luke, this Word Play is found in John. It tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Heaven’s point of view.
One of the great highlights of the Advent season is watching our Sunday School students re-enact the Nativity. I remember as a child myself how on Christmas Eve we would have our Sunday School program, receive our goodie bags and go home to open presents. The Nativity play was a central part of that experience.
I read about a Sunday School that was putting on a Christmas pageant which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn. One boy wanted so very much to be Joseph, but when the parts were handed out, a boy he didn’t like was given that part, and he was assigned to be the inn-keeper instead. He was pretty upset about this but he didn’t say anything to the director. During all the rehearsals he thought what he might do the night of performance to get even with this rival who got to be Joseph. Finally, the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn, and the inn-keeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted. Joseph answered, "We’d like to have a room for the night." Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said, "Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!" For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do. Thinking quickly on his feet, he looked inside the door past the inn-keeper then said, "No wife of mine is going to stay in dump like this. Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn." -And once again the play was back on track!
You may have seen the Nativity play dozens of times but it’s moments like this that make it fun.
There are traditionally two gospels from which we get our Nativity scene, but did you know there is a third gospel account? This one is difficult to act out if we take it literally from the text. This third account is found in the gospel according to John and it is my favorite. If we were to give it a name we could call it the Word Play. It is both a play on words and a play about the Word. What is most significant about this Word Play however, is that it lays a foundation for the Nativity and gives us the reason for Christ’s coming.
Let’s look at this Word Play in John 1:1-5 together and observe the Nativity from Heaven’s point of view.
1. The Perpetual Word
John introduces this pageant with a familiar phrase. As the curtain goes up we hear the words, “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). And with these words John takes us to the beginning, not to when the angel came to Mary, but to the time before time. There is no mistake in that these words remind us of Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God…” for that is what John intended. This phrase introduces the story of old creation and now it also introduces the new creation.
If we pretended to know nothing of whom John was speaking we would first of all realize that this Word, whoever he is, is eternal, perpetual, always was and always will be. Even the insignificant little word “was” tells us that he had no beginning of his own; when other things began, He – was.
But why does John call this person the Word? Why not call him “Messiah” or “the Christ”? John is writing to Greeks and Jews. For both of them this term “the Word” or better yet, “Logos” means something important. A word is the expression of our thoughts; it says in an audible and visible way what is in our minds and hearts. Logos means more. To the Greek thinkers it meant a principle of reason, the principle which gives meaning to the Universe. Logos invokes the deepest thought.
John had this in mind but he also had the Hebrews in mind too. In fact the true meaning of Logos is found in Hebrew revelation. The Word of God in the OT denotes God in action. When God spoke he created, he revealed or he delivered. For example, in Psalm 33:6, “By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” When God spoke it revealed something of himself. So John calls this person in his gospel Logos, the Word, because God is saying something again.
2. The Personal Word
John goes on to describe this person “…and the Word was with God…” (v. 1). The Word is no longer an abstract subject; the Word is now seen as personal. The power that fulfils God’s purposes, the word of his mouth, is the power of a distinct personal being. But he is more than just a word, he is a person and has real existence. He is not a metaphor or personification; the Word is real.