The Gospels and Christmas…
I just finished teaching a short series on the writers of the four Gospels and how their differing styles and messages form a more complete look at the life, miracles and divinity of Jesus. It is presumed that Mark wrote his Gospel first – and based on writing to his audience in Rome he was consumed with the idea of the suffering of Jesus and he doesn’t even waste time speaking of the birth of Jesus. The point that Mark is trying to make is that he doesn’t dwell on the non-essential stuff. He is all about the life of Jesus and since the birth narrative doesn’t necessarily point us to eternal life with Christ, Mark starts with John the Baptist and his announcement of the coming Messiah.
Matthew probably wrote his narrative next and focused on his audience of the Jewish population. Since history and ancestry were the most important things to the Jewish people, Matthew starts out with a genealogy, taking us all the way from Abraham to the time of Jesus. Matthew lets us know that all are welcome and that drawing a clear path from Abraham through David to Jesus is important historical information to know. Truly, Matthew tells us, Jesus is the long awaited Messiah – the King!
Luke, who wrote his Gospel about the same time as Matthew, starts his book out with an entirely different approach. He wants us to know the certainty of what he is writing about. Luke, while not an apostle like Matthew, travelled extensively with Paul and wrote to a more educated Greek audience – letting them know that whatever he told them was the truth and that the information that had been transmitted to them was absolutely, beyond question, completely accurate.
It is in Luke’s Gospel that we have our most famous Christmas story. The most detailed account of the birth of Christ and the accounts of the angels have become familiar to us throughout the years. Luke is the longest Gospel and due to its sophisticated language (in the original Greek) and attention to detail, it was almost immediately accepted as an important work. This is in stark contrast to Matthew’s Gospel that took several hundred years to gain acceptance. In fact, it was about that long before other commentaries were written about his work. By the way, Matthew and John were apostles, while Mark and Luke were not.
This is not to say that they weren’t important people of their day. Mark was a close friend of Peter and it is said that much of the material that Mark used in his account of the life of Jesus came from Peter. Likewise, Paul was influential in Luke’s work.
John’s Gospel was probably the last one written and while the other three are considered “synoptic” Gospels, meaning that they tell a similar story from different perspectives, John’s work is quite different from the others. John dedicates his work to the biblical truth that God became man, in the form of Jesus; and that Jesus is the light of the world. John is unbridled in his love for Jesus – and he wants us to know, beyond any doubt, that God visited us in human form – the baby Jesus.
While Matthew, Mark and Luke give us great historical context about the events of the Bible, John goes a little deeper – he wants us to know why this is important for us. And that brings us to Christmas. Without God coming to earth in human form – in the person of Jesus, we would not know about the earthly life of God. We would not have a way to emulate the behavior of God in the flesh. While God the Father is a Spirit, all around us and in heaven, the Holy Spirit dwells within each believer. Jesus, as a human, dwelt among us. So, in the Trinity we have God above us, God among us and God within us.
Christmas is the event that brings God in human form to earth. It is the link that connects us physically with God – in the form of a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. The whole event is filled with miracles and wonders – even angels – as they announce the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields.
Our verse for this evening gives us a glimpse as to why John wrote his Gospel. The apostle tells us, in John 20:30-31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
My encouragement this evening is that Christmas is the time of year that we celebrate this most divine event. Think about it – God in human form coming to earth – a light shining into the darkness. And a model of behavior for each of us to follow – to love one another as Christ has loved us. My prayer is that as we celebrate another Christmas, we can set aside, at least for a moment, the commercialization of the season and focus on Jesus, the reason for the season. And… in John’s proclamation that we can have life in the name of Jesus – eternal life… Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…