Summary: Luke 2 teaches us that Jesus purposefully came to those who no one would choose - from a young poor couple to outcast shepherds. Learn also about his ordinary/extraordinary childhood.
Luke chapter 2 is very unique - it is the only place where we learn in detail what happened at the birth of Christ - again, evidence that Luke may have gotten the story from Mary herself. It is the only place where we see Jesus presented for circumcision at the Temple, and the only gospel that records a tiny but significant story of Jesus as a 12 year old boy.
The first 20 verses you probably have memorized - they form one of the two Christmas stories - the other is in Matthew, but it actually occurs when Jesus was no longer a newborn (the Magi).
Verses 1 - 7
There is a lot of controversy, believe it or not, over the accuracy of this paragraph. People say that there was never any empire-wide census under Augustus, no reason for Joseph to go to Bethlehem, no need for him to take his wife, and for that matter Quirinius wasn’t governor at that time. So, they conclude, the Bible is a made up afterward version of events that seem plausible but not factual.
Well - let’s talk about that. It’s true that Caesar Augustus didn’t call for any empire-wide census but he did have a policy that allowed for regional census taking and taxation - and that is the key. There was a regional census taken during that time - Jewish custom called for men to return to their ancestral towns - and it’s quite possible that Quirinius was the administrator of the census and later became governor to invoke the tax (census taking took a long time). As for Joseph bringing Mary - perhaps they knew she was getting close and knowing the significance of this child decided to stay together.
Some other things - they probably did not arrive in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve - but some days or weeks beforehand. It says "while they were there…" not - "soon after they arrived." Also - we think about Jesus being laid in a sort of wooden crib inside a wooden Crèche scene with angels, shepherds, and the Wise Men all gathered ’round in a holy glow.
In reality - it was a cave in a hillside and Jesus was laid in a stone feeding trough. This cave may be one of the only accurate sites of Jesus’ life in Israel. I’ve been there and it’s no Oregon Health Sciences University maternity wing - nor is it the Sheraton.
What’s beautiful about this, of course, is that the King of Kings was not born in a palace or even a real home - but in the crummiest of places, attended by the lowliest of people - because Jesus came to save the lowest of people.
Verses 8 - 20
I think we tend to romanticize the shepherds - you know - like American cowboys sitting by the fire under a twinkling sky - but instead of the lowing of cattle in the background it is the bleating of sheep. Well - forget that image. Shepherds at this time were outcasts in their society. They were not allowed in cities and were often considered thieves.
For God to send his angels to announce the birth of Christ would be like coming to homeless people in downtown Portland.
It may have been Gabriel bringing the "good news" - which is the gospel itself. He says it is for "all people" which actually in the Greek refers to the people of Israel (the word "laos") - but that good news was to be spread throughout the whole world.
"A Savior, who is Christ the Lord." There is a lot in this little phrase. "Savior" means "deliverer" and would have meant that to the Greek as well as Hebrew audience. "Christ" means "anointed one." "Messiah" is the Hebrew form of the word. The "Lord" meant deity. So you have God as the One set apart for the special task of delivering His people.
The shepherds didn’t ask for a sign but they got one - and a very specific one. Swaddling clothes was normal - but not lying in a feeding trough. Its interesting too because this gave them a clue where to look. They couldn’t have gotten into a wealthy home, but into a stable they could go. Just as Jesus is accessible to all.
The shepherds then "made known" what they saw and heard. It means to declare something you know. The shepherds were not learned men or religious experts. But they had experienced something that was worth telling - the first ambassadors of the gospel. The people who heard it "wondered" or "marveled" at it. It means to admire from a word that means "to look at closely." Mary, it says, "treasured" the experience - it means "to confer." She "mulled them over." She will have more food for thought shortly.