by: Denise Robinson
Christmas at Luke’s House
Isa. 9:6-12; Luke 1:67-79; Luke 1:1-4; Luke 2:1-14
This Advent season we are looking at Christmas through each of the four Gospels. For each of the 4 weeks of Advent, we are on a journey to the four Gospel homes – Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. The purpose of our journey is to experience what Christmas means from that Gospel writer’s perspective and how Christmas is celebrated there. This week we have been invited to Luke’s house for Christmas. (This sermon series is based on the book, “Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes,” by Cynthia Campbell).
Before we get on our way to Luke’s house, let’s first take a look back. Two weeks ago, we visited Mark’s house. There we found a simple home with no decorations, ornaments, or clutter. And yet, when we left Mark’s house we were filled with hope. Because even though there wasn’t much of Christmas to be seen, there was a message of good news – not in the baby in the manger, but in the adult man who was crucified and rose from the dead. Mark reminds us that we have hope because God’s love conquers death. It did so for Jesus, and it will for each of us.
Last week we visited Matthew’s house for Christmas and what a difference from Mark’s. Matthew’s Victorian-style house is big and old – it’s well-maintained, but like all old houses could stand a little updating here and there. The house is filled with people and photographs and the Christmas trees show off homemade ornaments each of which tell their own story. Compared to Mark’s house, this house is sheer chaos and clutter. But as we move from room to room and listen in on the conversations, we hear a message of good news. It begins thousands of years ago with a man named Abraham – and comes to us generation by generation. In the midst of all this chaos, Matthew brings us his story of the birth of Jesus. What is Matthew’s message? Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” All of us. Before leaving Matthew’s house, we gathered together around the piano and sang, “Joy to the world. The Lord is come!”
So, this week we come to Luke’s house. We get an idea of what Luke’s house will be like from the opening words of his Gospel. (READ Luke 1:1-4). What is the key word here? “Orderly.” This is not to suggest that Luke’s house is sparse or simple like Mark’s. It’s as big as Matthew’s house, but it doesn’t give off the same vibe. There is definitely a welcoming feel to the house and it invites us in, but the house is newer, the people are a little more well-behaved, and everything has its proper place. Imagine a large two-story red brick home with white pillars out front and a large curved front porch. Everyone is not really family at Luke’s house, but everyone is treated just as if they were family. From the outside, as we pull up, we see Christmas decorations and there are people, mostly kids, outside on the lawn playing. There’s even a nativity scene with Mary and Joseph, a manger, angels, and shepherds. I think I even see some sheep and maybe a camel. Or is it a llama? As soon as we open the door, we are hit with the sound of Christmas carols. Inside there is a grand entrance, a formal living and dining room, and a great family room where most of the people seem to be hanging out. Every room has a Christmas tree filled with ornaments. Kind of like we saw at Matthew’s. Except that these ornaments seem to be store-bought – lights and ornaments all match, like they were designed together. The word “orderly” comes back to mind. Luke’s house leaves us with a feeling of warmth and safety. Christmas here gives us what we all want: a sense of peace. Why?
Of all the Gospel writers, Luke gives us the Christmas we know best and love the most. Angels fill the night with wondrous music. Shepherds watch over their flocks by night. Mary ponders everything the angel told her in her heart. But there is a good deal more going on at Luke’s house than meets the eye. With each of our Gospel visits, we’ve been asking: Where does the good news begin? With Mark, it’s with John the Baptist, the herald or messenger who prepares the way for the Messiah. With Matthew, it’s with Abraham, to whom God promised nations of descendants. Luke falls between these two: he doesn’t go back to Abraham, but he begins before Jesus’ birth. Let’s wander around and take a look at Luke’s house.
One of the first things we notice is that the first three chapters of Luke are like videos, each of which has a time/date stamp on it. Chapter 1, after the four-verse introduction, begins: “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” Then chapter 2 starts, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Finally, chapter 3 begins, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod [son of King Herod] was ruler of Galilee.” On the one hand, each of these time/date stamps orients us to when the events Luke writes about occurred. But each of these statements also makes a theological point. You see, each of the people named – Herod, Augustus, Quirinius, Tiberius, and Pilate – thought they were important. Two of them – the emperors Augustus and Tiberius – even proclaimed themselves to be sons of god, saviors, lords, and even gods themselves. It was stamped on Roman coins: Augustus, Tiberius, and other emperors – “son of god.” But here come the heavenly angels in Luke 2 making a statement about who is really God: “Fear not,” said the angel. “For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”
At Luke’s house, as we wander from room to room, every room has a warm and peaceful glow. As we get further into the house, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the story. Here the good news doesn’t begin with Jesus or John the Baptist – it begins with John the Baptist’s parents. Elizabeth and Zechariah are old. No matter how fulfilling their lives had been, they – like Abraham and Sarah thousands of years before them – had no children. Luke 1 tells the story of how the angel Gabriel comes and visits Zechariah, telling him that he and Elizabeth would, at long last, become parents. We’re told that just like Sarah, Zechariah laughed. When it seemed like life was almost over, God gave the gift of life. Before the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah is complete, before we know how it turns out, Luke then takes us on another angelic journey. This time, Gabriel appears to a young woman named Mary, to tell her she will give birth to a son who will be the Messiah, the Lord. Chapter 1 ends with the songs of Mary and Zechariah, sung in response to the angel’s news. Mary’s song is about what God is going to do in the world and to the world. In her eyes, when she sings this song, God in fact has already acted and the world has been turned upside down. Even though what will come is not yet complete, God has fulfilled his promises in sending Jesus. Zechariah’s song, read for us by Kitty, carries the same theme: God will redeem God’s people. Zechariah’s song also gets in a word about his son, John, who will prepare the way. These two songs have been at the heart of Christian worship for centuries. The song of Zechariah, known by its Latin name, Benedictus, is sung or recited on Christmas morning and the song of Mary, known as the Magnificat, is sung or recited in the evening.
Now, having set the tone for the main event, we come to chapter 2 and the coming of the good news into the world. You have heard these words before, but they never grow old. READ Luke 2:1-14.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with a sermon in his home town of Nazareth where he announces that his mission is to preach good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed. Jesus has more to say about money, poverty, and the care of the poor in Luke’s Gospel than in any other. Jesus proclaims the reign of God, and Luke makes it clear that God’s reign is present in the words and actions of Jesus. As we wander throughout Luke’s house, we see poor people, lost people, sick people, sinners, women, Jews, and Gentiles. We hear stories told of Jesus’ parables celebrating the finding of the lost and reuniting those who are estranged. We hear about how Jesus ate with tax collectors and other sinners and welcomed all into his company. We hear that women are part of the company of followers and are named as friends of Jesus, and that Gentiles are part of the story of redemption.
As we get ready to leave Luke’s house, what is the message we take from it? For Mary, Zechariah, and Luke, Jesus’ birth is the sign that God has not forgotten God’s people or the promises made long ago. God remembers and God promises a time of peace, a time of no more pain, poverty, suffering, or oppression. We have a future and that future began in our past just over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Did Mary and Zechariah see this peace with their eyes? No. Have we yet seen this peace? No. But in Luke’s house, through the eyes of faith, we see it. We experience it in our hearts. We hear the good news: that despite all the signs to the contrary, God has not forgotten us, God has not abandoned us. The message is best summed up in the words of those angels bending near the earth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all mankind.”