BOWEN COLUMN: Still the greatest story ever told

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Gospel of Luke, some say, is the loveliest book ever written. During these chilly, festive days of December I think we appreciate Luke’s gospel and the physician’s brilliant storytelling ability more than ever. Of course, he didn’t take on his writing task alone.

Did you know that only Luke tells the story of those shepherds tending their sheep on a silent, holy night? Of all the gospel writers, only he tells of the angel appearing suddenly to these scared men trembling beneath a bright light. But they get a front-row seat to one of the world’s greatest announcements that night, a narrative we’ve heard a thousand times:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.”

Luke, of course, does not stop there, but takes us on a long, powerful journey, all the way to a tomb outside Jerusalem where an angel again appears – this time to some grieving but faithful women – with a glorious declaration: “He is not here, but is risen!”

Luke’s account – from the beginning that spectacular night to the powerful grave-bursting victory – is the greatest story ever told. Shakespeare, Hemingway, nor Twain can compare.

To tell the life story of this babe born in a manger in a page or two is impossible; but we can re-tell it at a glance, as many will be doing during the days ahead. Thinking back, I am always glad at this time of the year that Mama, Preacher Miller, and Grandma made it part of their life’s mission to tell me and many others who walked our red-clay countryside the world’s greatest story – and I am glad they taught how to live the story, too.

We know many of you particularly need to hear this story today, and we are blessed to tell it again, as we started telling it each year back last century here in this place. Our story here is one of the reasons we like to see a year wind down: During these wintry days of December, the world focuses on this Jesus more than any other time. The scenes and songs that fill the air are heartwarming, and the story of the babe born in a manger is inspiring. It makes us forget a little of the trouble brewing all around us.

Years ago – when I was a young boy of almost eleven who had recently gone down into the water with Preacher Miller – I was asked to step up and lead a song at the old, red brick church of Christ building in our Georgia hometown. I’ll always remember the title of the hymn. After six decades, I hope its title reflects our life’s story just a bit: It is the old hymn, “I love to tell the story.” This story is a personal thing, for sure!

We all love to tell it more now than ever. It means more. We’ve had more years to weigh its value. We have the thrill of blessings and the burden of failures to give it more meaning.

But there’s more to the story, and we must tell it all, even as Dr. Luke told it all two millennia ago.

Of course, it is still the story of a beautiful child born in Bethlehem, born among the animals in a barn.

But it’s more.

It’s the story of a man who eats with sinners and heals the diseases of the sick and gives strength to the tired.

It’s the story of more than a man – the son of God – who takes men whose lives are battered and torn, and he molds them so that when they walk away you hardly recognize who they are at all – kind of like the old violin the poet once wrote of.

It’s the story of the king of kings finishing supper, then tossing a towel over his shoulder and taking a basin of water and bowing down to wash the feet of his disciples. This one reminds us to be a servant, not a king.

It’s the story of a man who – when he washes the disciples’ feet – washes the feet of a man by the name of Judas. At that we must pause.

It’s the story of a fearful woman facing a mob with rocks in their hands; but the master passes by, and she walks away with grace in her hands.

It’s the story of the blind man who has never one thing – until he meets the carpenter from Galilee. That evening, this blind man watches, I am sure, the scattering of the sun’s oranges and blues, yellows and reds across the western horizon.  

Ah, there’s more to this story than can be told in one short visit here on a December morning. But we have to remember that it’s a story of a Man who carries a cross up a hill called Calvary, and it’s a story of a man with nail scars in His hands.

The biography doesn’t end that dark day outside Jerusalem, though. Triumphantly – as the evangelist Luke records beautifully – there’s an empty tomb, a risen Lord, and a reigning King. That’s the story we like to tell best of all!

So, now, almost half a century since our first feeble attempt to stand and lead a song among my congregation of Georgia loved ones, we still carry that song with us, especially during the sounds, lights, and wonders in the cool December air: Yes,“ I love to tell the story,” still.

And we are blessed that we could tell it one more time, today.