Summary: We are ready for the part about Jesus’ birth. We’ve heard about Elijah, and David, and John. Now it’s time for Jesus.
Luke 2:1-21 The Birth of Jesus
12/26/04 D. Marion Clark
Christmas finally came! The Christmas season is fun as anticipation builds for the big day, but it is the arrival of the day that is best. Whether we are children longing for the day to open presents, or adults ready for all the preparation to be over, we are more than ready for the day itself. So are expecting parents. The first few months of anticipation are exciting, but by the ninth month, Mom and Dad (especially Mom!) are ready for the birth.
We are ready for the part about Jesus’ birth. We’ve heard about Elijah, and David, and John. Now it’s time for Jesus.
We can divide our text into three portions: the birth (1-7), the announcement (8-14), and the response (15-21).
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke documents Jesus’ birth in the Roman empire. He was the firstborn son of Mary and Joseph. Though Joseph and Mary were residents of Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus was born in Bethlehem due to a census being taken at the time that required Joseph to register in his hometown. Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome and Quirinius governor of Syria, which was the governing district that included Palestine. Perhaps Jesus’ name was documented in some Roman census book. Luke also documents Jesus’ credentials necessary for claim to the Messiah title. He was of the lineage of David and the firstborn son. Thus he possessed the Messiah’s birthright.
Scholars debate the details of the exact story. Even so, Luke’s main point is that Jesus’ birth was humble even by human standards. His bed was a feeding trough; his family was essentially homeless, not even living in basic accommodations. There was “no place” for them. They were not even pawns in the Roman world. They were uprooted from their home merely for the sake of counting them in a register book. As far as Rome was concerned, they were nobodies. As far as Bethlehem was concerned, they were an imposition. But as far as God was concerned, they were the center of the universe, carefully moving along in the will of God and fulfilling the oracles. The Messiah is born of the lineage of David in the town of Bethlehem, just as the prophets had foretold. God was sovereignly moving about the Roman Empire to carry out his purpose
If the birth of Jesus seems commonplace so far, the next event is anything but ordinary.
8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Luke gives us a common scene with an uncommon event. Consider first the scene. From what scholars know about sheep and shepherding, it is evident that these sheep were those reserved for the sacrificial offerings in the temple. The profession of shepherd was at the low end of the scale for prestige, so much so that shepherds were not allowed to give testimony in court. It is possible that these shepherds had a little higher standing because of their specialty. Even so, at best they would be considered among the low class citizens of society. We see then Luke’s continued theme of humble circumstance. Even when a heavenly choir appears, the audience is a small group of lower class citizens. We almost want to question the purpose of the announcement. If you are going to announce important news, you certainly want to give it to a fitting audience. Well, as God said, “My ways are not your ways.”