Summary: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke
Every hero needs a good origins story.
I grew up with comic books and the idea of superheroes, and the coolest superheroes also have the coolest origins stories. Origins stories are the tales told of how a hero got his powers, where he came from, and why he came from there. Origins stories tell you why he is the kind of person he is. They tell you about his motivation and drive, about why he does the things he does. All of the good deeds and battles against evil are only so much fluff and stuff without the origins story. You can't really appreciate and understand the hero if you don't understand his origin.
The first two chapters of Luke tell the brief, but extremely significant origin story of Jesus. Please don't think that I'm trying to equate Jesus' story with those of comic book superheroes...I'm not. But I want to try to help you understand how very important Jesus' origin story is. It's hard to really appreciate Jesus and His work without having some grasp of his beginnings.
Luke As A Bridge
Luke's Gospel is different from the others in a very major way. It's not so different because of the stories it tells or the details recorded, but because it was written by a man who had never seen Jesus. So, you can view Luke's gospel as sort of a bridge between two generations of believers...between those who had known Jesus personally and those who had never met him. In order to write this book Luke had to interview people who did know Jesus and were witnesses of what he recorded.
Yet along with recording the historical data, Luke had the immense task of presenting the man Christ Jesus in a way that would fire the imaginations of those who had never known him. For many, Luke's gospel would be the only way they would ever form an idea of the kind of man Jesus was.
There are some scholars who think that Luke's gospel served as a cover document to a selection of letters used to defend the Apostle Paul during his trial in Rome. In order to form an estimation of the kind of man Paul was, and in order to understand why he would risk life and limb over and over again to preach about Jesus, and in order to grasp why he would defy the power of Imperial Rome to do so, they had to be introduced to the Jesus whom Paul preached. The officials of the Imperial Court needed to know the kind of man Jesus was in order to understand the kind of man that Paul had become because of him.
Since Luke seems to serve as a bridge, the beginning of the story is of vital importance because it sets the tone for the rest of the work. Luke's gospel begins with an origins story that tells us far more than you may typically think. Like the very best origins stories, we're given hints and shown teasers that provide glimpses into the kind of man that Jesus would become. And that is critical to Luke's story; that those who didn't know Jesus could know the kind of man he became, and that they could know why he was that man.
To us the particulars of Jesus birth are little more than quaint details.
Preceded by a cousin, born to Mary in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and worshipped by shepherds...oh holy night the stars are brightly shining! In all the plays the young girl stares in wonder at a doll in straw filled manger, while the man with a false beard stands reverently by her side. Enter the children clad in bathrobes with towels on their heads who gather 'round and begin to sing, "Silent Night". To us, this story is about Christmas and joy to the world, the Lord is come. But it's more than that. To understand just how important this origin story is, you need to understand a bit about the cultural foundation of the world these events occurred in.
We live in what anthropologists call a guilt culture. In our society, an individual's behaviour is largely regulated by feelings of approval for well-doing and feelings of guilt for wrong doing. If you do things that society believes to be undesirable, you will feel guilty. But the society Jesus was born into had a different cultural foundation; it was a shame culture.
In a shame culture what matters more than anything is how you are seen by others. Your significance is determined by the group's estimation of you. Honor means greater significance, shame means less significance. If you are shamed enough, you lose all significance and value. No matter how much you have or how good you are, if you are shamed then you lose face. Being seen as shamed, without value, without significance, is worse than anything in this kind of culture.