Another Advent Reflection

I am always surprised to learn that there are faithful Christians, many of whom have been members of churches all of their lives, who don’t know that he story of the baby in a manger is not reported in all four Gospels. It appears only in Luke. Matthew begins with a genealogy and gains its place in the Christmas narrative by being the only Gospel that reports the visit of the Magi. Mark is in a hurry to tell the story and begins with Isaiah’s prediction about John the baptizer and his ministry in the wilderness. The Gospel of John begins with a beautiful, poetic, and very Greek prologue. Only Luke tells the story of Mary’s pregnancy, delivery and the location of the baby.

We, however, really like that story. We like it so much that we’ve added characters. Many people believe that there is an innkeeper who offers a stable when the public accommodation isn’t full. That really isn’t what the Gospel says. It says that Mary placed the baby in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Mary and Joseph never were people who would have been staying in a public accommodation. They didn’t have that kind of money. They were staying with family. Bethlehem was, after all, the town from which Joseph’s family had come. The Inn was the guest room. Most simple homes in that region at that time had two rooms. The homes were built on hillsides and the upper room was the usual place for guests to stay. The lower room is where the animals came in when the weather was bad. The upper room was full. The baby was born in the lower room. There was no cow. Cows were too expensive for those people. The sheep were out in the fields that night with the shepherds. You can read about it just a few verses later.

But we love not only the story as it is told int he Bible. We love our own versions of the story, as portrayed in the pageants of our childhood.

So, as Advent draws to its conclusion this year, I have been thinking about what the Gospel really says. After all, this is year 3 in our lectionary cycle - the year that more of our Gospel readings come from Luke than the other three.

Luke starts out by that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events.” In the third verse of his Gospel he states, “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you.”

That is all well and good for Luke, but I must confess that I’m not too good at orderly reports. I’m basically a storyteller and I often get the order of events mixed up. Anyone who knows me will report that my office is not an orderly place. I thrive on a bit of disorder. Regular readers of my journal will note that I flit from topic to topic without any apparent rhyme or reason.

And I am convinced that those who are writing orderly accounts are few and far between these days. In fact, I’m not sure I can name many. The news organizations seem to bounce from chaos to chaos, reporting event after event as if they cannot remember what happened yesterday. Our government skips from scandal to crisis and back to scandal so quickly that it spins my head and not in a good way. We need an orderly account. Luke’s opening was enough to keep me reading.

As I read along, I see that Zechariah, being a priest, has the courage, or the gall, to ask an angel a question, wondering how a couple of oldsters like him and his wife could achieve a pregnancy. He thought they were past the age when that kind of thing happened. Luke reports that “both were getting on in years.” Zechariah repeats the author’s opinion, “For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel, figuring that Zechariah didn’t believe the prophecy, informed him that he was going to “become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

I’ve never been struck dumb. I’ve had a frog in my throat. I’ve had a grumble in my speech. I’ve been beset with coughing fits. I’m well aware that losing the ability to speak is not an easy thing for a preacher. Once when I reacted to a medicine by developing a cough, I reminded my doctor that I earn my living by speaking in public. The medicine was changed and I remained employed. Zechariah apparently spent a few months on a silent retreat. They say it is good for listening and learning and contemplation.

I tried an experiment. I watched a group of recent news videos on my computer with the sound turned off. Instead of angry, the people begin to look like they are suffering. Current events videos without the sound tend to make me feel sorry for those I’m watching - even the ones I call idiots when watching with the sound turned on. Silence, it appears, reveals our pain.

Later in the Gospel, when Mary talks to the angel, she too asks, “How will this be?” She doesn’t get struck dumb. She gets an explanation, though how believable that explanation really is to her is not very clear. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

The line I really like from the Advent stories in Luke is about Mary. “Mary treasured up all these things.” (Luke 2:19)

That, it seems to me, is a very valuable skill. I’m not sure that I know how to treasure up all of these things. I treasure the moments when I received news of the coming of grandchildren. I treasure up the times I get to spend with them. I treasure up the stories I hear from the people in the congregation I serve. I’ve got a heart and a brain full of treasured memories.

So as we come to the end of Advent, my resolution is to turn down the sound and try to remember the treasures more clearly. Who knows, maybe there are treasures worth remembering in the faces of those who normally fill our lives with so much noise.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!