A reflection on Luke 2:1-14 for Sunday, December 13 at Mosaic Baptist Church
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
Luke 2:1-14 (NRSVA)
There is frivolity in cappuccino art. It is a little spark of – perhaps unnecessary – joy.
Our passage opens with a message for ‘all the world’. Augustus spoke. People moved. A mass counting of an empire.
The most important – and joy inspiring – action is not happening, however, in the palace of Augustus. Neither is it taking place in the governors’ residence.
The joy-producing action is taking place in the lives of a forgotten couple who can not find space in Bethlehem’s inn. Mary gives birth with only the assistance of her new husband, Joseph. The newborn child is wrapped in cloth scraps and placed in the food trough. A makeshift crib.
We are a long way from any palace.
We are no told – but we imagine – their joy. A new life. The relief of the arrival after their settling in Bethlehem. A recovering mother and child.
An unnamed child is Luke’s focus. This fragile one is the fringe-dwelling centre of Luke’s account. The way of the world is to remember the powerful and to forget the already forgotten.
But not this time. In this account everything is backwards. Augustus and Quinarius serve merely to give a time-frame. They quickly disappear from the story.
Yet at the birth of this child the joy extends – not from Mary and Joseph – but from heaven itself.
Angels herald this arrival. They seem to be looking for anyone who is awake at this hour with a backdrop vast enough for heaven’s host. Shepherds in an open field will do. Only the sparkling night sky is a big enough stage for their magnificent symphony.
The angels want to tell someone!
After all, YHWH’s promised Messiah has finally arrived. David’s city is his birthplace. The angels seem as surprised as anyone else: ‘…you will find a child wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger’
A strange thing indeed!
To be sure, this herald is not to congratulate the new parents. They are glorifying God. They are blessing people across the entire earth.
To say the least, the destiny of this child will be worth following.
In what way does this account set the scene and the reader’s expectation for the rest of the Gospel of Luke?
Does true joy always begin in heaven?
How does this story bypass the structures of earth? How does it exalt the humble? What does this say about God?