Christmas at God’s House: Nativity Stories in the Four Gospels – Advent 2016
The church has four gospels – four narratives that tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God. We might think of these as four different houses that the church goes to live in for a season. Each house (like our own homes) has a distinctive form and style; a particular design and style of decorating. We have a natural tendency to blend the four gospels into one (to “harmonize” them). The best example is the Christmas pageant, where Luke’s shepherds and Matthew’s wise ones all show up at the same time. But, in fact, the gospel houses are very different. Historically, we think that each was written for and preserved by the church in a particular region or situation. Today, we can benefit by trying to listen to each gospel individually, or (to go back to the metaphor), visit one house at a time and savor it on its own terms.
This year during Advent, we will visit all four gospel houses and see how Jesus’ “beginning” is told. As we do so, we will find that each story reflects a different aspect of the mystery that is beyond any one description or characterization. Each house reflects one aspect of the truth of the incarnation, the Word made flesh – God with us. And even taken together, they do not exhaust the meaning that is there for us to discover in our own lives and times.
This Advent, I invite you to come with me on a journey of imagination to God’s houses. You may find some more to your liking than others but each will have something to delight you and lead you more deeply into the Christ’s presence. Here are the texts. This is the itinerary for our journey, the moveable feast of Christmas.
Advent I – November 27 — Mark 1:1-11 and Isaiah 2:1-5 – Mark’s house is spare and utilitarian. John sets the stage for the coming of “good news.” He doesn’t “need” a birth story or a back-story, He begins with a forecast of what is to come.
Advent II – December 4 — Matthew 1:18-25 and 2:13-15, 19-23 and Isaiah 11:1-10 – Matthew’s house is dark and full of mystery. Tradition weighs heavily, and there are strange guests who are clearly “not from around here.” The child who is to be born will be “God with us,” but he is born into a dangerous time and a troubled world.
Advent III — December 11 — Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-20 and Isaiah 35:1-10 – At Luke’s house, there are lights everywhere and carols playing on loudspeakers. There is a living crèche on the front lawn, complete with a petting zoo. Inside, there is joy in abundance and welcome for all. This is a story about wonder and how God transforms the ordinary (a man, a woman, a child, a barn) into the most extraordinary gift of all.
Advent IV – December 18 — John 1:1-14 and Isaiah 7:10-16 – John’s house is hard to find; the road is long and really dark. You seem to drive forever until, there it is – bathed in light, light streaming out of every window. Once you get there, the host tells a story that begins long, long ago. It starts so far back that no one was there but the One who made us and everything. But now this One has moved into our neighborhood, and we discover our true selves as if for the first time.
Cynthia M. Campbell, Pastor