As you know, we’ve been having an Adult Education series on the Nicene Creed. We’ve been exploring the Faith, exploring the story of salvation, through the words of the Creed, going line by line and expanding on what each phrase means, why the writers chose to include it, how it is grounded in history and theology. Well, last week we ended up talking about the four Gospels, who wrote them, where their perspectives came from, where they found their source material for the things they themselves didn’t witness.
One strain of Holy Tradition tells us that St. Luke, who was eventually a companion of Paul, amongst others, on their missionary journeys, got his backstory from Mary, who would have obviously known the whole story. And so Luke sets down his history of salvation, and I mean history – Luke was a physician, yes, but also quite the amateur historian; in fact..”Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians”1 – he sets down the history of salvation in Jesus Christ with, well, John the Baptist, and not even the Baptist, but the Baptist’s father Zechariah. Seems weird, right? Let me tell you about Jesus, but first, let me tell you about this other guy.
As Reginald Fuller pointed out, “On the second and third Sundays of Advent each year, the gospels focus on John the Baptist. In an elaborate dating (pointing probably to the year 27), Luke connects the appearance of the Baptist both to secular history and to salvation history as he brings the Baptist on stage in wording reminiscent of the appearance of the Old Testament prophets…
“The Baptist sums up in his own person the whole salvation history of the Old Testament; he stands at the head of the Old Testament prophets and points, as they did, to the coming Christ. The one difference is that John is the last of the prophets and announces Jesus’ impending arrival.”2
And so Luke, knowing his history both secular and religious, grounds his whole Gospel not in random nice thoughts on the nature of God or on poetic musings on peace and love, but on things that actually happened, or perhaps more appropriately, on people that happened.
Incidentally, Mark and John do the same thing with their Gospels; Mark began with the Baptist in the wilderness; John the Evangelist began with his famous and oft heard prologue (the Last Gospel) and then starts over with the Baptist, with what happened and the people that made it happen.
Why is all this important? Because it’s our story. It’s not a story about something that happened long ago in a galaxy far, far away; this is our story, the story of how God interacted with His people and continues to interact with us.
Bishop Stokes likes to talk about “our story”. In fact, the next three Diocesan Conventions will use the theme Know Your Story, Live It Boldly, which, while sounding a bit like a theme to a Christian youth camp in the 1990’s, is a good idea. Bishop Stokes points out that we recite our personal stories all the time: at funerals especially, there’s lots of “remember when” moments; at holiday dinners, there’s the recitation of all the classic family stories. But the bishop reminds us often that it’s of vital importance to know OUR STORY, the story of why we’re all here today.
To be a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, is impossible, or at least incredibly difficult, without knowing our story. Advent gives us many chances to hear the story again, to “remember when”, and to remember that the story is still happening, that our salvation story never really ends.
St. Luke set the tone for us this morning, gave us a great starting point with John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord, that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. How will you use this Advent to hear the story once more, to prepare a way for the Lord in your own life?
1St. Luke, Wikipedia
2Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/2AdvC120615/theword_indepth.html