The story of Jesus’ birth is told from two perspectives in the Bible. Matthew’s Gospel tells the narrative from Joseph’s view, while Luke’s account offers it from Mary’s. One traces Christ’s genealogy to Abraham, the father of faith, while the other traces it to Adam and his father, the Creator of all. One genealogy is presented in a noble manner, citing many important Jewish leaders; the other includes shady characters, sinners, outcasts, and women. One version has the couple living in Bethlehem, city of King David, the other in Nazareth, from where nothing good could come. In one, Joseph gets the news from an angel; in the other a girl (an unreliable source) receives the message. In one legend, Jesus is born in a house while in the other the birth takes place in a stable. Visitors come. In one story they are revered royalty but in the other they are lowly shepherds.
The Gospel Readings at Catholic Masses and many other Christian worship services are on a three-year cycle; 2022 marks the Year of Luke (it began on the first Sunday of Advent). Luke’s writing gives particular attention to issues of social justice, care for the poor, salvation to sinners, community for the marginalized, and hope for those who are outcast. Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in his book, The Holy Longing, notes that social justice is at the core of Christ’s message. He states that one out of every ten lines in Christian scripture deals directly with the physically poor and God’s call for us to respond. In Luke’s Gospel, it is one in every six lines. Rolheiser goes on to write that Christian spirituality demands four essential characteristics that are non-negotiable: 1) private prayer and morality, 2) social justice, 3) a mellow heart, and 4) a community of faith. Luke’s Gospel, perhaps more than the others, accentuates these four essentials. It begins with his telling of Jesus’ birth and continues through the stories of the early church in The Acts of the Apostles, the continuation of Luke’s Gospel by the same author.
The Christmas story is embodied best, then, by those who embrace these essential components of life in Christ. They pray daily. They know right from wrong and act accordingly. They put their faith into action through a culture of encounter that recognizes and responds to social, economic, racial, political, and other forms of injustice that exist around us. They have souls that are mellow and hearts that are grateful; they are not loud or aggressive but go placidly amid the noise and haste dwelling in peace with God and creation. And they are part of a community, a family of faith that inspires them to become better people, striving onward and upward to be more like Christ. Luke’s infancy narrative touches the heart of our own existence: our own nativity and purpose here on earth. As we journey deeper into Advent, inching closer to the celebration of the incarnation of God, and reflect upon Luke’s viewpoint, let us make his story our story. Though we were born once upon a time, God has not finished creating us. Though formed long ago, we continue to take shape as His children. With Jesus as our brother, we will come to greater understanding of our place in salvation history as we celebrate the power and glory of letting Christ live in us.
As we proceed through Luke’s presentation of the image of Christ in the year ahead, let us begin the journey by greeting Him, a helpless child that is poor, naked, outcast, homeless, hungry, and rejected. As His parents travel to Bethlehem (Hebrew for “house of bread”), the babe gets laid in a manger (feed trough), where He becomes spiritual food for all: the Bread of Life. Luke’s is a powerful version of Christ’s story that connects stable to table; he urges us to return often to the altar of nourishment and to bring with us, as Jesus did, those who, like Him, are outcast, who suffer from injustice and who want to share in the world’s redemption.