The Gospel of Luke is my favorite Gospel for preaching and inspiration. Especially as we approach Christmas Eve, I love Luke. From the beginning, the intent of Luke is clear — to present Jesus as the One who will break through the divine-human divide to restore the relationship between God and God’s people to wholeness. Through the tenderness and compassion of Jesus extended to everyone who has need, we gain a glimpse of what living in that restored relationship looks like and feels like. The love of God, the grace of God, is universal; it is not just for the faithful Jews. It is not just for people living in and around Jerusalem at the time Jesus put his sandals on the earth. It is not just some cosmic, hoped for ideal. The love of God permeates all times and all places for all people. The barrier between God and humanity is removed, never to be put back in place.
At this time of year, we are familiar with chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s gospel. We love to hear and find hope in the stories of the prophecies to Zechariah and Elizabeth regarding John the Baptizer. We find courage in the angel’s appearance to Mary and her conviction to be faithful. We trust in the witness of Simeon and Anna as they recognized the mission and ministry Jesus was to live for all people everywhere.
As a freshman in college, I sang in the Phillips University Choir. I am forever grateful to our director that year, Dr. Jerry Blackstone. We sang a version of the “Nunc Dimittis” (Luke 2:29-32, named for the first words of the Latin translation) that has forever touched my soul. As Simeon held the infant Jesus, he proclaimed, “Master (or Lord), now you are dismissing your slave (or 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 for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Those words, paraphrased, to music, are powerful. They witness to the reality and a moment in time that changes to course of life as it is known — salvation for all peoples, a light for revelation and glory. As we approach this Christmas Day, may we gain a glimpse of that reality and how it might change us and the way we live.
That’s just the first two chapters and there’s more to come! The Gospel of Luke is volume one of the Luke-Acts story. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ life and ministry outside of Jerusalem and his journey to Jerusalem to face the cross and open us to the empty tomb. Acts tells us of the peoples’ response to the empty tomb and the sharing of God’s love for all people beyond Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.
More than the other gospels, Luke challenges our ideas of what is expected or common. Luke challenges our ideas about how we experience God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the lives of others. Luke is one of the “Synoptic Gospels” (synoptic meaning “same view” — Matthew, Mark, and Luke) because, like Matthew, it follows the outline of Jesus’ ministry according to Mark. Mark provides the structure and the basic content contained in the Synoptics. Mark does not have any unique stories or teachings of Jesus. However, Matthew and Luke have common material that is not in Mark and they each have stories about Jesus that is unique to their gospel.
It is this unique material and perspective on Jesus’ life and ministry that separates Luke from the other writers. This uniqueness is exemplified continually through the words and works of Jesus extending compassion and tenderness to all who are needy. No individual or group is above or below, too far or too near, the challenge of seeing the world in a new way in the realm of God. In Luke, it is usually the Outsider who first recognizes who Jesus is and what he is doing. It is the one who is not expected to have faith that has faith. The one sheep out of 100 is not too insignificant to stop everything else and care for that lost one.
Last Sunday, when it was 24 degrees, north wind blowing, and ice on the ground, I was the last to leave the church (worship had been at First Presbyterian for the cantata). As I walked to my car, someone was walking through the parking lot. We greeted each other and mentioned the cold weather. In a moment, I offered the person a ride to wherever they were going. I’m not in the habit of just offering strangers rides, but there was something about this person and this exchange that led me to offer. The woman seemed surprised at my offer and, surprisingly, she accepted. Again, I don’t think she is in the habit of accepting rides from strangers, but something seemed different about this moment.
As it turned, she was just getting off of work from Hardee’s. She works many Sunday mornings, but when she isn’t working, she attends Bright Temple. As soon as she can find a job that won’t have her working Sunday mornings, I think she will move on from Hardee’s so that she will be able to worship with her church family. In the 5 minutes or so to Park Trail Apartments, we connected and that connection reinforced the reality I experience is not everyone’s reality.
My reality is that I don’t live in the cold. I live in a warm house with plenty of warm clothes where I can prepare warm food and drive in a car that is warm. I exit that warm car go into a warm building where I work or shop or play. In the places I go, I am in relationships with people whose personalities are warm toward me and I toward them. I do not live in the cold, I merely go through it from one warm place to another. Even next week, when I go to northern Iowa for Christmas, the temperatures will be cold, but everything else about that time will be warm.
Today, this week, this winter, whenever you read the Gospel of Luke, I invite you to reflect on your reality — where there is warmth and tenderness and compassion. I invite you to reflect on ways you can share that reality for others who don’t expect warmth or tenderness or compassion. The message of Luke’s gospel is simple and profound: you will find warmth in God’s love, tenderness, and compassion in unexpected places, from unexpected sources, and in unexpected ways. May you be open to receiving and sharing generously with others today and always. Merry Christmas!