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.
Luke: God’s Christmas Invites our Worship
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
It is with these words that Linus begins his story of what Christmas is all about. These are also the words of one of the most well-known sections of scripture, Luke chapter 2.
Called a “physician” in Paul’s epistle to Philemon, it is believed that Luke was well educated, and a doctor by training. He is believed to have traveled with Paul on many of his journeys. While Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, he wrote his gospel, as well as the book of Acts, by learning from those who did personally know Christ. Because of this, Luke is often considered the historian of the New Testament. In Luke 1 he writes that “since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you.”
Fittingly then, Luke gives us a great amount of detail about the birth of Jesus. Part of his goal seems to be to show the significance and specifics of the beginning of Jesus’ life so that doubts and questions might be answered. A careful reading of Luke also reveals that he chooses to tell the story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of Mary. In this subtle way, Luke recognizes and dignifies the important role of Jesus’ mother in the story of the savior’s birth.
Luke opens his gospel by giving us details about the birth of John the Baptist, including an entertaining story about John’s father, Zechariah, who becomes mute for nine months after arguing with an angel. Next, the Angel Gabriel visits Mary, who received him and the news of a child in a much more welcoming manner. Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and the two pregnant women share in their joy about God’s miraculous work in their lives. It is a conversation that concludes with Mary’s singing of the beautiful and well-loved Magnificat.
Continuing the story in chapter 2, Luke lays out for us the now well-known account of Jesus birth, proclaiming that “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the world should be registered…”. As Luke tells of Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem and the humble location of Jesus’ birth, he is careful to point out all of those who came to worship in the presence of this child. From Shepherds in the hills, to angels singing “glory,” from an old man named Simeon, to a widow called Anna. Great and meek, young and old, they all come to worship at the side of this newborn king, ushering in a new era of worshipful praise at the name of Jesus Christ.
Today, as we read and re-read the gospel of Luke, we may need to guard our hearts and minds from glossing over as we come to these familiar words. Instead, Luke is inviting us, to connect again to the emotion and joy of those who welcomed the savior first. From Mary to Simeon, angels and old men, Luke presents to us the story of a baby who completely altered the lives of those involved, a foreshadowing of what he would eventually do for the entire world.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you;
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.