Sunday, December 14, 2008

Luke is the only gospel for Christmas stories!


Our family lives up the hill from the Catholic parish where our daughter is attending Sunday school. When she is not able to attend, it's easy enough for me to slip down the hill and connect with her teacher, to see what the girl is missing and to keep her up to speed.

This morning, the little girl is with her cousins in North County, so I went to chat with the Sunday school teacher. She said the big thing Leyla would be missing today is the story of the birth of Christ. I told the teacher I had her covered there.

Actually, I have been wanting to reread the gospels and see who said what about the birth of Christ. Mind you, I am not a Christian - I don't embrace Jesus Christ as a unique messenger, above all others - but I don't reject him as a messenger, either.

Above all, I cherish the storytelling in scripture, which I read in William Tyndale's translation, the first complete New Testatment in English translated from the original Greek texts. Tyndale's Bible was Shakespeare's Bible, and the best, most vivid passages in the King James Bible are all lifted straight from Tyndale. Good enough for Shakespeare, good enough for me.

So, cracking open my Tyndale this morning, I was surprised to be reminded that two of the four gospels - the gospels of Mark and John - skip the birth of Christ altogether and take up the story from John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. That means half of the gospels in the Bible are absolutely useless for a Christmas reading! I would bet the large majority of Christians would get that wrong, if quizzed on this fact.

For the birth of Christ, I'll need to read to Leyla from the Gospel of Mathew (the opening track of The New Testament, as it were) or The Gospel of Luke, the third book of The New Testament. Like a great rock record, where the third track is often the money track, the unforgettable hit single, Luke is the longest of the four gospels and it alone has many of the greatest hits. The manger birth of Jesus, for example, would not be in the Bible were it not for Luke - no other gospel records it.
Luke is the sole source for much cherished imagery associated with the birth of Christ. There are four gospels, but you only get this from Luke:

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And there were in the same region shepherds abiding in the field, and watching their flock by night. And lo: the angel of the Lord stood hard by them, and the brightness of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: Be not afraid: Behold I bring you tidings of great joy, that shall come to all the people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And take this for a sign: ye shall find the child swaddled, and laid in a manger. And straight way there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, lauding God, and saying: Glory to God on high, and peace on the earth: and unto men rejoicing.

And it fortuned, as soon as the angels were gone away into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is happened, which the Lord hath shewed unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe laid in a manger. And when they had seen it, they published abroad the saying, which was told them of that child. And all that heard it wondered, at those things which were told them of the shepherds.

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Reading Tyndale's translation, you see how many hooks of Christmas carols he wrote - "tidings of great joy," "peace on earth". In payment for his labors and gifts, he was strangled in public and burned at the stake as a public entertainment.

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Image of Luke at work us from an illuminated 12th century Byzantine copy of the Greek Gospels, probably produced in southern Italy or Sicily.

3 comments:

nosey parker said...

tis the season for strangulation. now where do we
get the story of the great cheese log?

petrichor5 said...

I read somewhere that it was out of compassion, due to his popularity, that Tyndale was strangled before the fire was lit. I guess, given the choice ...

nosey parker said...

compassion is a christian virtue