Luke’s Christmas Story

As we continue to celebrate the Advent tradition, the third Sunday is one of particular importance. This Sunday is the beginning of the second half of the Advent season and it is a reminder that the birth of the Savior is almost here. The Catholic Church and some others refer to it as Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word gaudete is the first word of the entrance portion of the mass on this Sunday and it is translated “rejoice”. It is taken from the passage of scripture found in Philippians 4:4 where Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.”

Gaudete Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday and Sunday of Joy. The candle that is lit on this Sunday is pink or rose-colored and is known as the Shepherd’s Candle and the Candle of Joy. It symbolizes the great joy the shepherd’s experienced when the angel announced to them the birth of Jesus. And this part of the Christmas story is found in the Gospel of Luke which is the focus of our study this evening.

Luke was known as “the beloved physician” and was a companion and fellow worker with Paul the Apostle. Luke was the first historian of the early church and wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. Luke continues the narrative he begins in his gospel in the book of Acts which he also penned. Luke’s gospel is the longest of the four gospels and was written primarily for the Greeks. It is about Gods’ relationship to man and is known as the Gospel of compassion. It stresses Jesus’ sympathy for the brokenhearted, the bereaved, the sick and the mistreated. It also places a great emphasis on a worldwide scope of salvation. So let’s take a look at the Christmas Story as presented by Brother Luke.

Luke begins his gospel with an introduction of Zacharias and Elizabeth found in Luke 1:5-25. In this passage we find the story of how the birth of John the Baptist is foretold to his father Zacharias and the response by his mother Elizabeth. They both were righteous in God’s eyes and blameless in their walk with Him. They were also childless and were quite old. God sends an angel to announce to Zacharias that he would have a son but Zacharias  was afraid of the  angel when he appeared. Zacharias questioned the angel’s announcement and was then silenced because of his unbelief. Elizabeth’s response was one of joy and gratitude. We will pick up this part of the story back up later in our study.

In Luke 1:26-38 we are introduced to the virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. This passage relates the story of the announcement of Jesus’ birth to His mother Mary and the miraculous conception that will bring this to pass. The angel Gabriel is sent by God himself to make this announcement and the event occurs in Galilee in the town of Nazareth. Luke reinforces the fact that Mary was a virgin and was engaged to be wed to Joseph. Gabriel reveals the name of the child to be born and what His purpose will be. In response to Mary’s concern of how this could be Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit would be the power that would cause it to happen. Mary is also told of Elizabeth’s conception of a son in her old age.

As Luke’s story continues in Luke 1: 39-56 we see a very special event involving both Mary and Elizabeth. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, a relative, in the hill country of Judah, possibly to check on her since she had been informed by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth was also pregnant. When Mary arrived and Elizabeth heard her voice the baby in her womb leaped and she was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result of this visit we see both Elizabeth and Mary burst forth with a song of praise to God. Elizabeth’s song is found in Luke 1:42-45. Mary’s song “The Magnificat” is found in Luke 1:46-55. After these things, Mary decides to stay with Elizabeth for three months.

Luke closes the first chapter of his gospel with the birth of John and another song of praise, this time by Zacharias. Thus us all seen in Luke 1:57-80. John is born to Elizabeth and it is time for his circumcision as was the custom on the eighth day after the birth of a male child. Her relatives were prepared to name him after Zacharias his father but Elizabeth said his name was to be John. When they consulted Zacharias he wrote on a tablet that his name was John. Zacharias opened his mouth and once again began to praise God and fear came on all those around. Zacharias’s song “The Benedictus” is found in Luke 1:68-79.

Luke continues his account of the Christmas story as he opens the next chapter. He describes the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Luke 2:1-7 and portrays it as a lowly birth. Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to register for the census and Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room available in the inn. Luke finishes his account of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:8-20 by relating the story of the shepherds and the angels. The shepherds were minding their own business with no thought of being surprised by an angel. Therefore, they were also afraid when the angel appeared. But the birth of Jesus was announced to the shepherds by an angel of the Lord. That is, the Angel of the Lord was announced by an angel of the Lord. Suddenly there appeared a multitude of heavenly host with the angel and they also burst into a song of praise to God. The short song of the multitude of heavenly host of angels is found in Luke 2:14.

I know all of us realize that Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is the one used most often in annual story readings and children’s plays and even in live nativity presentations. But as we light the Candle of Joy on this third Sunday of the Advent we should all be full of joy and gratitude that the promise that God made in Genesis continued to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.