The physician behind the best Christmas story
By Walter Rupesinghe
Of the four evangelists, it is only St. Luke who has given the world a graphic and intensely moving description of the events relating to the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas without St. Luke's beautiful narrative would be devoid of the enchanting memories that come back to us from year to year as we gather at the midnight service which heralds the dawn of Christmas day.

When we sing carols like 'Silent Night’, ‘O' Little Town of Bethlehem’ and so many others, all based on St. Luke's story we are transported back in time to that greatest of all nights when a virgin brought forth the Son of God in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.

St. Luke tells his story in chronological order as befits a disciplined mind. That is perhaps why his Gospel has been described as the most orderly account of the life of Jesus although some of the events recorded by the other evangelists have not found a place in Luke's narrative. A case in point is the visit of the Magi which for some reason he has omitted in his story of the nativity (See Mathew Chap.2).

Despite all the details spelt out in Luke's Gospel it is strange but true that the evangelist did not see Jesus in person. In fact, his first visit to Israel took place a year after the crucifixion on the rugged hill of Calvary.

Taylor Cadwell in her book - Dear and glorious physician- deals in detail with Luke's long and arduous journey in search of the Unknown God. Caldwell had spent forty years researching for this fantastic biography. She states that the story of St. Luke is the story of every man's pilgrimage through despair and darkness, through anguish, doubt and rebellion to the feet and the understanding of God.

Luke was not a Jew. He was Lucanus, the son of Aeneas, a Greek slave who had later become a free man living in Syria working in the office of Diodorus Cyrinus, the Roman Tribune. Everyday before the evening meal, Aeneas would pour the customary libation to the gods for having freed him from slavery. Then came the most solemn moment when Aeneas refilled the wine cup and poured out the red liquid saying reverently, "To the Unknown God".

As this ritual was enacted evening after evening Lucanus was greatly impressed and filled with deep emotion. Aeneas explained to his son "that the Unknown God was mighty, omniscient and omnipresent”. Lucanus treasured all this in his heart and decided that come what may he must go in search of the Unknown God.

Lucanus was an unusually gifted boy, handsome and with an insatiable thirst for learning. His ambition was to be a doctor. With the assistance of the Roman Tribune who admired him very much he attended medical school and passed out with flying colours. Soon he was in great demand as a very capable physician and his fame spread far and wide. His patrons even arranged to send him to the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Alexandria, the best in the Roman world.

The Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar heard of Lucanus and appointed him as his personal physician. Everything that any human being could wish for was at his feet but Lucanus was so sick and disgusted with the moral degradation and debauchery of the Roman court that he sought the Emperor's permission to leave, saying that he preferred to work with the poor and the oppressed. The Emperor who had great affection and admiration for Lucanus could not understand all this.

Lucanus was given the God-sent opportunity to leave when he was banished from the imperial court through the machinations of Caesar's wife who had failed in her attempts to seduce him. Yet Tiberius Caesar never forgot him and instructed his subordinates to help him whenever they could.

Lucanus took up an appointment as a ship's doctor. It was then that he met several persons who told him of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, the star in the East, the visit of the Magi, the miracles performed by Jesus and His passion and crucifixion.

All this he noted in his diary in meticulous detail. He made up his mind to go to Israel to find out more and as he prayed for the realisation of his dream he heard a voice from heaven say to him, "I have known you from the beginning of time. I am He alone who can quench your thirst O! my servant Lucanus".

His dream of going to Israel was at last realised. Tiberius Caesar had arranged for Lucanus to be treated like a royal guest by Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea. Leaving Pilate's court he journeyed all over Israel and also met Mary, the mother of Jesus, who gave him all the information relating to the annunciation, the birth of Jesus, His public ministry, His passion and death, His resurrection and ascension. He worked on his Gospel far into the night checking and rechecking every detail. He spent many hours in prayer, saying, "Make me worthy to write about you and to follow You".

He was filled with a strange joy and satisfaction when he finished the Gospel to which he affixed the following introduction:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning it seemed good also for me to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have taught."

That indeed is how Lucanus, later affectionately called Luke by his friends (which name came to stay) gave the world the beautiful Christmas story and the other events in the life of Jesus as he recorded them.

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