Sentiment or Faith?

Today's Bible reading: Hebrew's 2:14-18

Is the telling of the Christmas story itself necessary?  That might seem like a rather silly question.  Yet it’s not silly at all when we remember that two of the four New Testament Gospels - Mark and John - do not have stories of Jesus birth or infancy.  Mark’s Gospel simply begins with John the Baptist exploding on to the scene.  Then he plunges us straight into the Kingdom's appearance with Jesus.  On the other hand, John's Gospel also leaves out Jesus’ birth and takes us back behind time - to eternity itself - to the timeless existence of the Word and Son of God, who has always been one with the Father.

Why then do Matthew and Luke include accounts of the first Christmas in the telling of their Gospels?  Is it simply to complete the historical record?  No … there's a lot more to it than that – which is exactly why we are going to take a closer look together this morning.

With Christmas still fresh in our minds, there are so many things we enjoy about our celebration: the carols, the decorations, the presents, the food, the company of friends and loved ones – all fantastic stuff.  The problem that can arise, however, is when Christmas starts to become associated merely with soft sentiment.  But there is a hard - if not harsh - reality in the stories of Matthew and Luke: an unmarried mother-to-be … a perplexed father-to-be … the harsh circumstances of Jesus birth … a tyrant bent on killing the young baby … and long treks to escape his clutches.  All these features remind us of the pain of Christmas.  And that’s the first reason why the stories had to be included somewhere in the Gospel accounts of the Church.  They remind us of the reality of the incarnation … of the fact that God became truly a human being in the person of a particular Jew … at a particular time … and in a particular place.  And this baby is destined for a cross!

Matthew and Luke each have their own emphasis as they write their infancy accounts.  Matthew sets Jesus within the history of God's people.  He traces Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation – the man that God had made His incredible promises to.  In Matthew’s account we thus find an emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. Matthew’s prologue - roughly the first three chapters of his Gospel - contains seven great prophecies fulfilled with the coming of Christ – and as we know, seven is the number of perfection in the Bible … thus representing perfect fulfillment.

In his version of the family tree, St. Luke traces Jesus back to Adam.  He is saying that Jesus doesn’t simply fulfill the hopes of Israel: He belongs as Savior to the whole of humanity.  Luke also sets the story of Jesus in the framework of world history.  Above all, he stresses that the coming of Jesus is the beginning of the joyful Good News of the Gospel of salvation for all people.

Prayer: Almighty Father, You have shined on us the new light of Your Word made flesh, who lived among us.  Cause Jesus, this Light, kindled in our hearts, to shine through our lives; through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.