Biblical scholars generally agree that Luke’s Gospel was written at least a generation later than Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. Yet whatever the dating, and irrespective of scholarly disputes about whether “Luke,” the author of the eponymous Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, and “Luke,” the companion of Paul mentioned in Acts and several Pauline letters, are the same person, First Corinthians and Luke-Acts are built on the same, deep theological insight: the incarnation of the Son of God, and his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, turned the world upside-down.
So even if the Christmas story of the angelic announcement of the Nativity to the shepherds of Bethlehem (Luke 2.1-20) was written decades later than First Corinthians, Paul’s letter to those fractious Greeks give us a crucial interpretive key to Christmas.
Here is Paul, bringing some serious heat at the very beginning of letter full of challenge to his converts in one of antiquity’s rowdiest towns:
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1. 20b-31).
Preachers at Christmas often, and rightly, emphasize the lowliness of the Christ Child’s birth and its first annunciation to a gaggle of herders not highly esteemed by their countrymen. What St. Paul reminds us, in First Corinthians, is that this pattern of inversion – turning everything upside-down – continues throughout the public ministry of the Lord Jesus and reaches its dramatic climax in his death and resurrection.
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