Summary: The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is the good news that the promised Messiah has arrived.
Our gospel writer Luke is a very educated man. He was not just an ordinary doctor,
"At the top was the equivalent of a surgeon general of the empire. He was by law a noble, a dux (duke) or a vicarius (vicar) of the emperor. He held the title of comes archiatorum, “count of the chief healers.” The Greek word iatros, “healer”, was higher-status than the Latin medicus." (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_community_of_ancient_Rome).
In Colosians 4:14, the apostle Paul calls Luke exactly like that, ὁ ἰατρὸς ὁ ἀγαπητὸς, the beloved physician – the doctor with a status of the level of an emperor. We also know now that this education is not a simple education. An iatros is not only educated in medicine, but also in grammar, philosophy and rhetorics. Studies show that
"Tacitus pointed out that during his day (the second half of the 1st century AD), students had begun to lose sight of legal disputes and had started to focus more of their training on the art of storytelling" (Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)
I extend this introduction to preface a very important rhetorical/literary device that Luke is using in our passage. It’s called the “irony” which is a “is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning.” This is our apostles technique. He uses that device to bring home a contrast, a vivid incongruity to highlight the majesty of his emphasis.
When I was in college I was a skinny pole, a 6-foot semi-skeleton. I already looked like this – like a confused hoodlum – a man that appeared to have a horrible disease and a criminal impulse. I played basketball. My teammates were all good-looking and fair. But I was the leader. We oftentimes played on the assumptions of our opponents. I’d be what they call a weak-side attacker – I attack from the weak side, working on the background, getting offensive rebounds, making those Reggie Miller curls. We worked on the contrast. We played the basketball drama well to dispel our opponents.
Our story today takes us to that kind of drama. Luke introduces the Messiah in the direst of circumstances so that in the end we will realize that Jesus really dispels the direst of circumstances in our lives and gives us hope and a new life.
THEME: THE PROMISED MESSIAH HAS ARRIVED
Irony yes. The promised Messiah of the people of God arrives at a time when the people of God is under a Gentile king. The old covenant which the Jews follow is a covenant that is supposed to be led by a Davidic king and administered by the Mosaic law, now Israel is led by a certain Caesar Augustus under the Roman law. In short, they were under the yoke of a foreigner. They were freed that from Egypt. Freed from Babylon and Persia. The Old Testament closed Malachi when they seem to be back to the old Mosaic administration. Hallelujah! When we open here, they are under the yoke of Rome. The darkness that was once Egypt. The darkness that was once Babylon. Once Persia. Now returns to loom over them.
Use: This gives us a glimpse of the Jesus ministry. He enters the darkness, places that are oftentimes the opposite of who He is to give the salve of His presence. He enters lives that are darkened though He Himself is Light. He enters families that are broken though He Himself is whole. He enters the past that is so filthy though He Himself is white as snow. This is the gospel. No wonder the Angel gleefully announced to the bewildered shepherds, “"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Yes he was born in a manger – demeaning, itchy feeding box. But that is not what defines our baby. He is the promised “Savior…[who is] . . . Christ the Lord” born in “the town of David” – Savior, Messiah, Lord and King.
Use: Oftentimes we see ourselves not walking in faith. We see the feeding box, but not seeing the glorious message in our midst. Whenever we are faced with difficulties in life, we put the value of our lives on the fact of the feeding box and not the splendor of the baby. Most of the times our lives dwell on the feeding foxes of despair, loneliness, self-pity, guilt, bitterness and that is why we stink. We feel itchy. The acids in our stomachs churn. We look at the world in the eyes of the feeding box. Do you see a feeding box or do you see a King? Wake up dying soul! Hear the grace of God!