CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO LUKE

LUKE 2:8-14

DECEMBER 14, 2014

 

AUDIO

            After the first screening of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, the producers decided to cut two songs. One was The Jitterbug, which Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man performed in the Haunted Forest.  The other was a song that MGM Studio boss Louis G. Mayer couldnt stand.  In his mind it was painfully slow, and it dragged the whole film down. And if your last name coincides with the second M in MGM, you generally get to veto anything you want.

            The second songs composer and the songs lyricist, however, pleaded for its inclusion. So did the other cast members, but Mayer wouldnt budge.  Then associate producer Arthur Freed approached the boss and said, Let the boys have the song!  It cant hurt.

            It definitely did not hurt.  At the last minute Over the Rainbow was left in the film. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song, and was recently voted the Greatest Movie Song of All Time by the American Film Institute.

            Can you imagine The Wizard of Oz without somewhere over the rainbow? For that matter, can you imagine Christmas without Christmas songs and carols? Lukes version of the birth of Jesus, which dominates the first two chapters of the Gospel that bears his name, doesnt read like a news report.  Or a documentary.  It reads more like a musical. Mary sings about her trust in God, and then, theres that host of singing angels above the fields outside Bethlehem.[1]

            Of course, there is one big difference between The Wizard of Oz and Lukes Gospel.  In the Wizard of Oz Judy Garland looks up at the sky and sings about a place where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."  In Luke's gospel look down upon earth and sing praise to God, "Glory to God in the Highest."  Lets read what may be the most famous Christmas story of all time.  Luke 2:8.

 

            In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks 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 news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on each peace among those whom he favors!

 

            This advent we are looking at Christmas through the eyes of each of the gospel writers.  Today we turn our attention to what is probably the best known and most loved account of Christmas, Lukes account.  We know his story well, but this morning lets look beyond this familiar account to Lukes entire Christmas account.  What was Luke attempting to convey in his Christmas account?

            First, Luke wants his readers to know that the birth of Jesus is a new chapter in an old story.  To illustrate listen the words of two people Mary and Zechariah.  As for Mary she is three months pregnant and after conversing with her cousin Elizabeth, she breaks out in a song of praise to God.  Look with me at the end of that song, Luke 1:54. Speaking of God, she sings,

 

            He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

            According to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

 

            Then look with me at Zechariahs prophecy.  After the birth of his son, he prophesies (vs. 6871),

 

            Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

            He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old

 

            In other words, Jesus birth has been in the works for a long, long time.  It started in a promise to Abraham, ran through the House of David, was foretold by the prophets.  In the first two chapters of his gospel, Luke highlights the fact that Jesus didn't arise out of a contextless situation. He wasn't born to a random family.  He didn't drop out of nowhere. Jesus was connected intimately with what God had been doing through the Israelites for ages.

            As a kid, I loved connect the dots coloring books.  Do you remember those?  They would have numbers next to each dot, and you would start with dot number one and connect it to dot number two and two with three and so on and so forth.  In a sense Luke wants to connect the dots for all to see.  In his Christmas account Luke connects Jesus with the story of Israel in the Old Testament, making the point that the God connected to Jesus is the very same God connected to Israel.

            So, first, Luke makes it clear that this is a new chapter in a very old story.  Second, Luke not only situates Jesus within the history of God's people, but he also sets the stage for the global reach of this birth.  Note the words of Simeon, an elderly, righteous and devout man who met the infant Jesus at the Temple.  Joseph and Mary came to the Temple for the right of purification as laid out in the law of Moses.  I dont make up these rules, but according to Mosaic law after childbirth a woman was unclean for forty days if her child was a boy and eighty days if the child was a girl.  To become clean again a woman needed to offer a sacrifice to God, so they came to the Temple in Jerusalem to do that very thing and encounter an old man, named Simeon who had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah his entire life.  He sees the baby Jesus and says (vs 29-32),

 

            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 of revelation to the Gentiles.

 

            In quoting Simeon about Jesus becoming a light to the Gentiles, Luke sets the stage for the global ramifications of Jesus birth.  And that has come to pass.  Think about it.  There seems be no end to the groups around the world who claim to be for Jesus:  Jews for Jesus, Muslims for Jesus, Bikers for Jesus, Cowboys for Jesus, Wrestlers for Jesus, Clowns for Jesus, and even Atheists for Jesus.  They dont believe in him as the Son of God, but they do like his moral teachings.

            When Luke wrote his Gospel this worldwide reach was in its infant stages.  Christianity had just reached the Capital of the Roman Empire, but more was to come.  The message of this birth has crossed oceans, even as far as Bellevue, Nebraska. Luke foresaw it.  We see.

            One more thing Luke mentions. Third, Luke underscores Jesus uniqueness.

          He does so by comparing him to one of the heroes of the day, Jesus cousin John the Baptist. Look with me at chapter one in Lukes Gospel.  Note the section titles.  After the books dedication, note the next two sections.  First, The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold and then the next big section, The Birth of Jesus Foretold.   Then note the next two sections, The Birth of John the Baptist and The Birth of Jesus.

            When reading through the sections well notice a big difference.  While John's conception occurs in the conventional way, Jesus' conception comes about through the creative work of the Holy Spirit. While John, like the Old Testament prophets before him, points to salvation, Jesus actually brings salvation. John was great Luke makes no bones about that, but Jesus was absolutely unique.

          Unless you have kept your television set unplugged for the past eight years, you have seen the Dos Equis commercial featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World. Hes played by an actor named Jonathan Goldsmith. Against a backdrop of gentle Spanish guitar riffs he says, I dont always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis stay thirsty, my friends.

            It turns out that Goldsmith is a 70-something immigrant of Russian Jewish heritage.  His acting claim to fame is that he played five different cowboy bad guys who were shot dead by Sheriff Matt Dillon in various episodes of the CBS Western Gunsmoke.  And in real life, hes not particularly fond of beer.

            Does the Dos Equis playboy/adventurer/man-of-the-world have any serious competition? Well, Luke would say, When it comes to being interesting, Jesus of Nazareth would blow him out of the water.

            In his book Who is This Man? John Ortberg points out:  It is in Jesus name that desperate people pray, grateful people worship, and angry people swear.  From christenings to weddings to sickrooms to funerals, it is in Jesus name that people are hatched, matched, patched, and dispatched.

            Humility, compassion, and forgiveness three qualities scorned by the ancient world became prominent Western virtues almost solely because of Jesus. For centuries he has been the real-life Most Interesting Man in the World. We can be thankful that Jesus never had to appear in a commercial. But if he did, its just possible he might have said, Stay spiritually thirsty, my friends.

            Jesus was not only interesting, not only great, but also unique.  That's what Luke want's us to remember.

            Amen.



[1] Glenn MacDonald, Daily Devotional for December 10, 2014.