The word gospel has many meanings. This Fourth Day of Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on the four Gospels found in the New Testament. These four are, of course, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
When speaking of the four New Testament Gospels, we are talking about a genre of writing which is biographical in the sense of first century Greco-Roman biography. Gospel in this sense is a book communicating the life, ministry, and meaning of Jesus Christ.
It is spectacular that we have four different narrators of the life of Jesus. The reason for four is very much connected to the Christmas mystery. God in Jesus has taken a human face. God is, therefore, encountered by other human beings. Each person brings his or her own history and personality to the relationship with Jesus. We receive, because of this, a much fuller and diverse, and for that, more beautiful understanding of the person of Jesus.
Matthew, among many other things, is fascinated with how Jesus fulfills Jewish prophecy and expectation. Mark is most interested in the essentials about Jesus, getting to the point. Luke loves to repeat the stories Jesus told and his special affection for the poor. John is so mystical and spiritual, he relates the deep sense of Jesus’ spirit to us.
Four different Gospels, four different portraits of Jesus, yet one Lord and one Savior of all.
And this gets us to another meaning of Gospel. Each book we call Gospel is essentially about relaying to us what the message of Jesus is. This message, also, is called Gospel. Mark, the great summarizer, tells it most clearly: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is the essence of the Gospel as message found in all the Gospels, though different aspects are highlighted in each.
And finally, the ultimate meaning of the word Gospel: It is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is, in person, the good news of God’s inbreaking kingdom of healing, mercy and grace. Ultimately, when we Christians speak of the Gospel, we mean Jesus Christ!
That is, the baby born for us on Christmas, to be for us Emmanuel, God with us!
And we have four written narratives, the four Gospels, to tell us the story of this one Gospel.