Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to
me to write an orderly account for you, so that you may know the certainty of the things
you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4)
That is the way the Gospel of Luke begins. Luke was a historian. His first book, this Gospel, records the account of Jesus from his announced coming to his death and resurrection. His second book, the Acts of the Apostles, takes up the story from there and tells of how the apostles shared the person and message of Jesus with the world around them, and in so doing the early church was formed.
As we begin a new church year with the season of Advent, we pick up this story and retell it to each other. This December we will use the opening of Luke’s Gospel as our text. It is certainly a familiar story, and yet how clear is our memory of what we think we know? Did Mary ride the family donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while Joseph walked along beside her the whole way? Was the innkeeper rude to not provide a suitable room for Mary who was obviously pregnant? What was the song that the angels sang to the shepherds? Do you know how many kings came to the stable in Bethlehem?
To the historian, every detail is important. But Luke was more than a writer of history; he was also a theologian. So as he states that he “carefully investigated everything” and wrote down “an orderly account.” But he was interested in far more than just the facts. These truths were to be life-changing, consequently he was also intently concerned that people respond to what he wrote. He wasn’t looking for a literary review, but he was praying for his readers to discover Jesus for themselves and to respond appropriately to him.
This month in our Sunday Worship times I will be using Luke’s opening two chapters to both refresh our minds on the actual story of the birth of Jesus, and also seek to lead us to a proper response to them. And as is true of all good stories there is something before the beginning. So before we get to the birth of Jesus we are introduced to some other primary characters, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and John. They have a part to play in the story and their response to the angel Gabriel’s messages is what enables the story of Jesus to unfold.
Response – what an important element to every message. Hearing is not the same as doing. A response is the engagement with what has been said. It is the personal participation that is required to bring the story to life. And the story of Jesus is certainly more than just a few facts from ancient history. The first message Jesus himself gave as recorded by Luke is to offer “good news to the poor…freedom for the prisoners…recovery of sight for the blind…and release for the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). All of these offers lie unfulfilled unless the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed respond to them.
My attempt this month will be to push for a response as I retell the announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth to prepare the next generation for the coming of Christ. This will involve the need to accept personal involvement as it did with the story of Mary. And even if not understood at first, all of us must come to the point of determined obedience as Zechariah did. It is then that we can stand with Mary and Joseph and find our proper place in the story and complete the tasks that God has designed for us.
That’s where we will be going in our Sunday Worship this month. Come join in the story and celebrate as only responders can. See you in Worship.
PS. By the way, the Biblical story of Christmas does not mention Mary riding a donkey, nor is there an innkeeper referred to Bethlehem. We are not told that the angels sang to the shepherds, nor do we know how many magi came to worship the Christ-child. We do know that they were not kings and that they didn’t arrive at the stable. Just a little historical correction.