Good morning. I hope you each had a good Thanksgiving. We can put away the pumpkins, pilgrims, and for the time being anyway, the turkey basters. It’s time to get out the elves and the angels, and maybe even the nativity scene. The tree comes later, but there is no doubt about it, the holiday season is beginning.
I have really
been looking forward to the Advent season.
This year is different, maybe more meaningful for me because I’ve got
more responsibility. For instance, it’s
And I like
Christmas. I like angels. Christmas starts with angels. We read of angels, we
sing of angels, next week we’ll put an angel over by the
Did you notice when Kathy read the two Gospel lessons this morning that they both had angels as main characters and were really the same story? The same story, but told from two different perspectives. Matthew and Luke even use different names, or titles, for Jesus. Matthew refers to Jesus as the King of the Jews, for instance; yet everyone knew that this was Herod’s title. Luke called Jesus things like Savior of the World, the One Who Brings Peace on Earth; titles which belonged to Caesar. The emperor, son of Apollo, god of light and reason, was also called the Light of the World. In other words, both authors contrasted Jesus with the rulers of the day, the message being that Jesus was to be the truer and more authentic ruler of our lives.
compare the two Gospels a bit more. The reading from Matthew is chauvinistic,
if you ask me. It is about the Angel of
the Lord coming to Joseph. It’s all
about Joseph. Joseph is concerned that his fiancée appears to be with child and
he knows that he has been a completely honorable man with her. While he is
pondering what he should do, the Angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream and
explains the whole thing. It’s the Holy Spirit’s baby. Not to worry. When the baby is born, just
name him Jesus. And take a moment to review the prophecy of Isaiah
There are no birth stories or Angelic visitations reported in the Gospels of Mark or John, but the Angel does appear in the Gospel of Luke. In this Gospel the angel does not visit Joseph at all, but rather he comes to Mary, and explains to her what is about to happen. She will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and she will be blessed among women because the Lord God will give the child the throne of his father David – Joseph being a descendant of David.
This is a very busy angel, by the way, he has flown over to Visit Zechariah and Elizabeth to tell them about the impending birth of John the Baptist, he flies back to Nazareth to visit the dreams of Mary, later chats with Joseph, moves stars around in the heavens to attract the attention of traveling philosophers, and swoops down to talk with the shepherds, getting back to Bethlehem in time for Christmas Eve. Either this was one very busy Angel of God or, more likely, there was a whole host of angels. Neither Matthew nor Luke tells us the whole Christmas story, by the way. Each gives us bits and pieces and we’ve patched it all together into a combined narrative.
Same story, told by two different writers, focusing on distinctly different messages. This is because Matthew and Luke were writing for two different audiences with two different sets of interests. Some aspects of the birth stories were of more interest to the Jewish community and some points were of more importance to the Gentiles.
determined to prove to the Jews that Jesus was, indeed, the long awaited
Messiah. He is writing for the Jewish people who are currently living under the
experienced the soldiers of a conquering nation patrolling our streets,
checking each of us for identification when we cross the checkpoint between
begins his Gospel with a genealogy beginning with Father Abraham, and goes some
42 generations down to Joseph and Jesus.
And he doesn’t leave out any of the potentially embarrassing people in
the family tree
his Gospel, Matthew quotes the Hebrew prophecies and shapes his story to show
that the birth of Jesus fulfills the Biblical prophecies. Some references are taken a bit out of
context, but Matthew makes his point. Jesus is the Messiah, come to release
later compares Jesus to Moses with the story of the Sermon on the Mount. Moses went up
story is different. Luke writes his
Gospel almost a hundred years after the events of Jesus’ earthly life. Times have changed. He does not include the
other differences in Luke’s version of the Christmas story. Luke tells us about
the census that
includes three important themes which Matthew seems to ignore
Today, we’re talking about waiting for the birth of a newborn baby. The birth cry of this child woke up hosts of angels who scattered to the corners of the earth, re-kindling HOPE in the breasts of wise, kingly-type folk, shepherd-type folk, zealots and aged mystics, all kinds of people. Taken together, that’s the message of Matthew and Luke; that’s why their stories have been written, copied, memorized, cherished, interpreted and re-interpreted. That’s why they have provided the subject matter for the great art, music, architecture of our culture.
As we enter Advent, it seems appropriate to take a really good look at the Christmas stories. They, along with teachings of Christ and the Easter Story, are the foundation of a 2,000-year worldwide religious movement of which we, sitting in this sanctuary today, are a living, breathing part.
Did the birth of Jesus happen the way Matthew wrote it or did it happen the way Luke wrote it? I imagine that both authors took some literary license with the details. But it’s the Christ message in each that counts, a message which has impacted and saved lives, including mine, for generations.
convinced that the birth of Jesus happened. Without a doubt a baby was born, he
grew to maturity, and walked this earth in special relationship with God. I’m
convinced that by virtue of Jesus’ life on this earth, the
O Come, O
Come Immanuel, and ransom captive