Luke Writes History

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:2-5a

Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

As we know, only Matthew and Luke include what we have come to call the Christmas Story. Matthew includes nothing of the birth of the Baptizer, introducing him as a full-fledged baptizer and preacher; ‘Repent!’

That leaves Luke to give us today’s brief memory in which Zechariah and Elizabeth play key roles.

First, a little history lesson. As I’ve mentioned before, I am an historian. When I enrolled in the History of Greece and Rome, I had to learn that historians of those days saw their role very differently from today’s breed. They only published good things about the—invariably—men they liked and bad things about those they disliked. Today’s historians are far less likely to take such an approach.

After President Kennedy was murdered, dozens of books came out praising his leadership and abilities and playing down his weaknesses. One of the earliest was A Thousand Days by one of his closest advisors, Arthur M. Schlesinger. Yes, Schlesinger praised JFK, but he did not fabricate anything. He chose to leave out some less pleasant details but did not lie otherwise.

That is the standard of the profession today. In ancient times, creating details was accepted as the norm. Besides, they could not travel enough to interview everyone who had information. So, they wrote what they thought he might have done.

Why do I bring this up? Non-Christians believe the Gospels are myths. Even if there really was a person named Yeshua, he could not have done even half of what is described; the Gospel writer made it us to sell their religion. You can find them on You-Tube and in books.

Without taking on the other three, let me point out this Gospel writer as fitting more into our modern style and less into his own century’s style. Here is his opening.

1-4 Dear Theophilus Many people have already written an account of the events which have happened among us, basing their work on the evidence of those whom we know were eye-witnesses as well as teachers of the message. I have therefore decided, since I have traced the course of these happenings carefully from the beginning, to set them down for you myself in their proper order, so that you may have reliable information about the matters in which you have already had instructionPhillips

At the time Luke wrote, Mark and Matthew had been in circulation long enough for Luke to read and make use of them as source material. If I decided to write about JFK, I would read Schlesinger’s book, and as many others as possible.

Also note the word, many. It seems likely that many of the early followers repeated their stories to those who could write. One story from one person, two from another, would be strung together and saved. Mark and Matthew, as well as Luke read as many of those scraps as possible.

We should never forget that people until the recent times were forced to learn by listening—they could not read. Their brains were well trained to remember what they saw and what they heard. Far from myth, these scraps were honest memories. Luke added that he used only evidence from reliable eyewitnesses.

Only Theophilus is named, so how do we know Luke wrote this account? The author of this Gospel also wrote what we call Acts of the Apostles. Luke is mentioned by name as traveling with Paul. More importantly, all second-generation writers credit Luke—Mark, Matthew, and John as well. One final point; Luke was kind of a hanger-on. Why give credit to someone—especially a Greek—who is little known? Unless he actually wrote it.

Today’s reading skips over the account of Zechariah in the Temple when he had a visit from an angel regarding his son; and the visit by an angel six months later to Mary to say she would give birth to the Son of God.

Matthew gives us Joseph’s visit by an angel. Luke leaves him out and has Mary travel, apparently alone, to visit her much older cousin. I must say as a historian, that sounds a little hinky. Alone? Likely some man went along.

This, to me, is the key verse. 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joyNIV

How would Luke have such a detail? John, of course, was dead and certainly both Zechariah and Elizabeth. If Mary was alive, she would have been close to 80-85. While people did live that long then, not many. But if anyone, Mary was blessed.

As a Greek who spent his time with Paul in Greek territory, Luke does not seem likely to have ever visited with Mary—possible but not likely. More likely, one of those scraps. Mark and Matthew may have seen it but chose not to include it. Luke saw it and included it.

John, a six month fetus, recognized his Master and Lord.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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