Looking in to the Warrumbungles from the southwest, 2011

Christmas in Luke

Posted Dec 27 2003 (Preached at Williamstown and Sandy Creek)

The Christmas story didn’t begin the day Jesus was born. It began years after his death, as people who had never known him in the flesh, met him, and found in him… a doorway to God. And they asked, “Where did he come from? Who was he? Who was his family?”

By then, no one really knew! They knew his mother was Mary. He had come from Nazareth, and he had brothers and sisters. That was about it!

The first great evangelist and writer, Paul, had not been interested in Jesus’ birth. Neither had Mark, who wrote the first gospel. But the new generations of Christians wanted to know.

Answering the question “Where did Jesus come from?” was not easy. Not only was there a shortage of facts, but any answer had to fit in with the writing styles of the day. Jesus was not just anyone. He was, for these people, the Way to God. They were beginning to call Him Son of God.

As such, his birth story had to be appropriately magnificent and miraculous, or it would not have been believed. That was simply the expectation of the times. So we might expect a really flash story of a great king, like all the other birth narratives of the heroes of the time.

Luke and Matthew responded to people’s need with stories which were different in some ways. One had shepherds, the other had kings, for example. Yet both are true, and both are startling in what they say.

In this Christmas of the Gospel of Luke, we’ll look at Luke. His gospel originally began with a list of Jesus’ ancestors … just like Matthew . But Luke makes Jesus one of a long line of prophets, not Kings like in Matthew. And in the end he calls him … “ son of Adam, son of God.” not merely a Jewish son of Abraham, as Matthew calls him. Luke’s tells us this Jesus has not come just for Israel… but for the whole world.

Scholars think the birth narrative was then added to the beginning of the gospel, starting with John the Baptist who comes to announce Jesus to the world. The story makes sure we see that John the Baptist, was the son of impeccable Jews, both of priestly houses. You could not have a more Jewish Jew, or more suitable person to be specially chosen by God for the task of introducing the Messiah to the world.

Jesus that “
among them that are born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” Yet, the final, highest result of the priestly lines of Israel, was a wild desert prophet. Luke’s story shows the best of the old tradition leads back to the wild outspoken and improper prophets who constantly criticised the “church”: of their day…. a big challenge for those of us who set a lot on tradition and the structure of the church

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized "….Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor';… or as we would say to day, “we’re OK with God… we’re church members…. Don’t say, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

He hewed to pieces any idea that being a good church person has much to do with being a faithful follower of God.

He said to the crowds "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." He told the tax collectors to collect no more than the amount prescribed for them. And told soldiers not to improperly use their power. He was saying “Show your love of God by living right.” There is nothing churchy about this story. It is simply a story of social justice and honesty.

Jesus story is even less churchy. People knew him as the Son of God. But where did he come from…? His mother was a no-body, unmarried, pregnant, and poor. He was born in poverty, no room in the inn, placed in a feed trough for a crib. Some scholars suggest that the word used for “inn” really means a roadside stop-over… Jesus was born on the edge of a parking bay. Yet, according to the story, all this was by the plan of God. And God brought witnesses to the birth. Shepherds… almost outcasts of society, perpetually unclean and unworthy to be in the presence of God. To them, first of all, was brought and entrusted the message of the Messiah.

And what a message! No wonder the Faith has been persecuted across the centuries. “God my Saviour… said Mary. “…

has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

This was the message, that God is on the side of the poor. That the world will be for the poor. That God will spurn the rich and the ruling classes. That is what salvation means! That is good news for all humanity.

God is interested first in helping the people we help in UCare, not the rich and powerful.

And just in case we were not sure, Luke tells us the story of Simeon in the temple, who knew he would see the Messiah before he died. Simeon found the baby Jesus and said: "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples ,a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

So let us hear the story again:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…. the first registration… while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."

After all the years to think and reflect about a Christmas story Luke wrote us the story of a little child which is true. A child born for children, born for the poor, born for justice… and goodness… and honesty…, not for the Overlords of life.

So it’s good to be with our families and friends at Christmas and to celebrate. Because Christmas is for us, the ordinary people.

The question remains though, where we will go tomorrow. One of the great Christmas carols says

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the shepherds
have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun.

To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken souls with love,
to feed the hungry children
with warmth and good food
to feel the earth below the sky above!
(c) Jim Strathdee

 

This is the story of Luke. Will we be part of the Christmas story, now that it has begun? Amen

I am the light of the world

I am the light of the world
You people, come and follow me!
If you follow and love
you’ll learn the mystery
of what you were meant to do and be.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the shepherds
have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun.

To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken souls with love,
to feed the hungry children
with warmth and good food
to feel the earth below the sky above!

To free the prisoner from all chains,
to make the powerful care,
to rebuild the nations
with strength and good will,
to see God’s children everywhere!

To bring hope to every task you do,
to dance at a baby’s new birth,
to make music in an old person’s heart
and sing to the colours of the earth!

(c) Jim Strathdee

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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