On the wall next to my bathroom mirror hangs a print with these four words:
“Always we begin again.” – after St. Benedict
Most mornings, I say it out loud to myself and often pray it for others needing a fresh start.
As we enter Advent, are you worn out? Has 2018 left you wanting to give up? Feeling like your good efforts are not doing any good? All that you have been speaking out about has been said before. In fact, to ad nauseam proportions. And still, there is no change.
Personally, this year’s history-making midterms elections in Texas, where I live, was the thing that made me want to give up. As much as we tweeted, block-walked, grassroots funded, and bumper sticker campaigned, our guy lost. Some friends and I asked, “Why keep trying for change? Why keep doing good?”
I crawled into bed that night after the election returns and said to God, “I am one Christian trying to live out the gospel—and it is not enough.” Waking up the next morning, my inner cynic crouched ready to spew, “Give up, you hopelessly hopeful fool! No one is listening. Nothing is ever going to change.”
The Gospel writer Luke would beg to differ.
Recently, I heard Keith Stewart, pastor of Spring Creek Church, say in a sermon, “Luke is my favorite Gospel because it is the Gospel of the poor.”
My weary soul perked up a bit. I had to admit that other than the story of baby Jesus recited in the Christmas Eve program, I could not remember much from Luke. I asked Stewart to tell me more. He said:
Luke is my favorite Gospel because it is the gospel of the poor, describing the great reversal that is the kingdom of God. Those who have been pushed down will rise up and those who’ve done the pushing will be brought low. Click To Tweet
Luke is the Magna Carta of the marginalized describing the great reversal that is the kingdom of God … Those who have been pushed down will rise up, and those who’ve done the pushing will be brought low.
When I left church that Sunday, I decided to read Luke for Advent this year. Will you join me?
Here are two reasons we can find hope in the book of Luke this Advent:
- He offers us the courage to keep on being like Jesus who cared for the human race—every lost one.
- No matter how many others were speaking out to tell the story of Jesus the Messiah, the world needed Luke’s particular voice. And it is the same way today: we need each one of our voices and efforts.
This Advent, let’s read Luke not just for the Christmas story, but to hear one man’s view on Jesus that will save our weary souls.
To Care or Not to Care for Our Fellow Humans?
Somehow, it has become “political” to care for marginalized suffering people. But Luke demonstrates how care for those the world neglects is the way of God’s Kingdom, not the way of a particular political party.
While Luke was clearly an educated and probably a well-to-do person, he seemed to take a particular interest in the very poor, which is largely absent from the other Gospels. Luke’s Jesus is an advocate on behalf of the poor, convinced that God is on their side. To Luke, Jesus was the Son of Man who came to save all human beings. Much of what is unique to Luke’s Gospel involves Jesus’ interactions with individuals, many of them on the fringes of society—sinners, women, and children. Some examples we see of this in the Gospel include:
- Mary, a humble, young girl, is exalted.
- Luke is the one who pointed readers to the insignificant sheep herders as the ones to see the glory of God when the baby Jesus was born.
- The Beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” but the same Beatitude in Luke’s Gospel simply says, “Blessed are the poor.”
- Only Luke records Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which had to have been heard as an absurd and scandalous concept.
Do Women Have a Place?
One of this year’s many heartbreaking issues has been the repeated maltreatment of women. Luke lived in a world with a similar reality for women—in fact, much worse. And yet Luke gave women and their stories a prominent role in what he told from Jesus’ life.
From the first chapters, as opposed to Joseph’s perspective in Matthew, the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist are told from the women’s perspective. In addition to the male prophet Simeon, Luke wrote about the female prophetess Anna, recognizing the birth of Jesus (2:25-38). Luke not only mentioned women, he says their names (8:1-3) and affirmed that they, too, should be allowed to learn from the teachings of Jesus (10:38-42). Luke is the writer who recorded that women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb (24:1-8). In fact, Luke referenced women and their stories forty-five times, far more than any of the other Gospels (Reference: The Gospel of Luke).
Luke boldly chose to include stories that his fellow Gospel writers did not, and in so doing, he put the stories and perspectives of women at the center of the story of what God was doing. The Gospel writer Luke boldly put the stories and perspectives of women at the center of the story of what God was doing through Jesus. Will you join me in reading his writings this Advent season? Click To Tweet
We Need Your Voice!
Neglect not the gift that is in thee (I Tim. 4:14).
Teaching pastor and writer Sean Palmer said:
We should always ask ourselves what would be lost if you ceased to exist?
To apply Palmer’s good question to Luke, what would be lost if his Gospel did not exist? What if Luke, the only Gentile to write a book of the Bible, had said something akin to, “For pity’s sake, there were three already—from actual Jews, like Jesus—we certainly don’t need one more!”
As a writer of subjects that often times seem to have been said before, Luke’s opening words jarred me. In the first chapter, Luke made his case for why he had to write about Jesus even though many others had already.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, to us … it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1: 1-4).
The world needed to hear from Mathew, Mark, and John, but especially in today’s hard times, I think that God knew we also needed Luke’s take on Jesus.
That Luke put his pen to paper to provide his unique account of Jesus’ ministry can also serve as an encouragement to many women who have difficulty believing their voice matters.
After years of writing, speaking, and ministering to women, I’m still surprised when I hear so many women struggle to see themselves and their stories as integral parts of God’s kingdom mission. It’s as if no one has told them the truth about themselves: They are leaders who bear witness to Jesus with their words, actions, and bodies. Their leadership may not look the same as a male counterpart or one who abuses their power; but together we are building communities, generously giving, and leading nonetheless. –Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
Luke added his perspective, knowing others had already told the story, and the way he told it using his particular voice and perspective mattered to the Church then, as it matters now. Because he was willing to add his voice, today the Church has a glimpse into Jesus’ radical love, compassion, and forgiveness for all humankind.
For example, I had no idea that Luke was the only one to record the parable of The Prodigal Son. What if, like the other three Gospel writers, Luke had decided to skip it? As the resident black sheep of my family, i.e. the prodigal, I cannot imagine my Christian faith without the hope of this story. And I am not the only one. Who knows how many countless lives have been changed by this one story, told only by the Gospel writer Luke?
The Gospel of Luke is My Salvation in These Dark Days
In times of deep sorrow, like this past year, I often return to beloved author Barbara Brown Taylor’s soul-piercing question, “What is saving your life now?” If you asked me that question, I would tell you, “An unsung Gospel writer named Luke.”
In fact, Savior is the title for Jesus that is exclusive to the Gospel of Luke, which makes sense, as it sums up Luke’s focus on Jesus spending his life saving outcasts, the poor, the marginalized and prodigals—like me.
This year, when you hear the famed Christmas card text from Luke, “Today in the City of David is born to you a Savior who is Christ the Lord,” thank God for saving you for another year to do some good. And for the Gospel writer who gave you the courage to always begin again.
For Further Study in Luke
- Need empowering to keep on championing the cause of the marginalized? Circle words like lost (For example, 15:4, 15:24,19:10) or poor (See: 6:20, 7:22, 14:13, 18:22) to see Jesus’ undeniable concern for suffering people.
- Need hope for women? Read Luke with a younger woman and underline all the women’s names or the word “women” or “woman” (For starters: 1:42,8:2 and all of chapters 23 and 24).
- Need to see the bigger picture of our Christian calling? Read the Gospel of Luke with Acts, which was also written by Luke. Some scholars say Luke wrote them together.
- Need some renewed Christmas joy? The word joy and related verbs like rejoice and praise are more frequent in Luke than the other Gospels (for example, see 1:14; 2:10; 10:17; 15:7 & 10).
- Finally, know a prodigal? If you’re a fan of Henri Nouwen, I’m sure like me that you cannot imagine his books without the best seller Return of the Prodigal Son. I will never forget Nouwen’s assuring words, “What I do know with unwavering certainty is the heart of the father. It is a heart of limitless mercy.” Find your old copy and reread it, or if you have never read it, grab one and find hope.