It occurred to me the other day that Christmas is swiftly approaching. I came to this realization as I was driving down one of the major streets in Minneapolis where I noticed that the trees that flanked the roadway were draped in strings of white Christmas lights.
I must admit that I am looking forward to Christmas, mostly because the world has been so gloomy lately. I know it can often come across as highly commercialized to the point of sacrilege, but even the secular commemorations of Christmas can offer echoes of the miracle of Christmas, particularly in all the dramatic displays that accompany it. If that’s true for the wider, more secular culture, then it is should be even more true for those who keep the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord as a religious celebration.
Most of the material we get for our Christmas commemorations comes from the Gospel of Luke. Unlike Matthew (who breaks down the family tree), Mark (who begins very matter-of-factly with John the Baptism yelling things and Jesus getting baptized), and John (who begins with a song about light overcoming darkness), Luke goes into great detail to include the events surrounding and supporting the birth of Christ – the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, and the Presentation.
Luke even includes Mary, the Mother of Christ, along with his extended family, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist, as integral parts of the Christ narrative. He throws some music in just for kicks. Perhaps that why van Heemskerck’s “Luke painting the Madonna and Baby Jesus” is so vivid. Reading through the beginning of the Gospel, it can feel as if Mary and Jesus sat for the portrait vividly retold and recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke’s “orderly account” is a reminder of the power of art to convey the miracle of God. Luke’s second book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” is no less dramatic – rushing winds and tongues of flames, shipwrecks and earthquakes, epic journeys and even a dose of apostolic beef all make for an amazing story of how God’s activity of continued creation extended deeply into their world, and into ours.
It can be tempting to view scripture as boring prose that attempts to convey arcane narratives of dull people. But Luke paints an intriguing story of a God who entered the world with an entourage, opening act, and even solicited the help of an angelic Gospel choir (everyone loves an energetic Gospel choir).
The God of Luke has a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps that is just what we need to break through what can so often feel so dowdy and gloomy. These stories have the ability to set our imaginations on fire as we bravely dream of the new world we all desire to see.
A Prayer for Today
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.