First of all, sorry for the long break – Holy Week took over!
Like Matthew, Luke builds on Mark, and includes an account of Jesus’ birth. His focus is different, though – before we get as far as the birth itself, we hear of events leading up to it. Luke doesn’t just link Jesus’ birth back to the Old Testament, but spells out his connection to John, as in effect the last of the Old Testament prophets, preparing the way. And Luke tells the story from Mary’s point of view, rather than (like Matthew) from Joseph’s.
The songs of Zechariah (Benedictus) and Mary (Magnificat), together with that of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) from the next chapter, have given the church a core part of its formal prayer, used daily in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer respectively. Religious and clergy, and anyone else who uses this pattern of prayer, are reminded through each day of God’s continuing faithfulness to his ancient promises, fulfilled in Jesus who turns the world upside down. That means that Luke’s perspective on this story is one which keeps a wonderful influence!
But it’s worth taking a step back to Luke’s first few verses. He’s very clear that he’s no eyewitness to these events. He is the physician who accompanies Paul on his journeys in the book of Acts, and the first non-Jewish author of the Bible. He approaches the story differently, apparently as a commission for Theophilus – though the name means ‘God-lover’, so it’s just possible that it’s an open dedication rather than a personal one. He says that he has consulted those who were witnesses, and has written ‘an orderly account’ so that Theophilus – and we – may know the truth about these things.
So Luke marks the beginning of a new phase in the story of the Bible itself, as the faith of Jesus begins to be global. Of course, Luke is still writing ‘history with a purpose’, not a supposedly unbiased and purely factual account. But he writes from within a different culture, and for a different age. Perhaps that’s part of the reason for his continuing popularity and influence on our picture of Jesus. I know that it’s Luke’s gospel that I generally use when introducing people to the Bible for the first time – and I’m looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks in it!