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Luke 2:1-21 – The Birth of Jesus Christ

It would have appeared at the time that Caesar Augustus ruled the world – after all as Augustus issues a world-wide decree. And yet Caesar Augustus’ decree is simply a small part of the workings of God to bring a young couple to Bethlehem in Judea – so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Caesar Augustus’ census highlights the defeat of God’s people under a foreign power – but at that very time does God suddenly, and contrary to universal expectation, afford a remedy.

When Mary gives birth in Bethlehem, she wrapped her baby in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the dwelling place. Wrapping Jesus is swaddling cloths is what every mother would do – he is just like any other baby. Mary’s action is loving but more significantly incarnational.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Why does Luke mention these shepherds? On one hand these are the same fields where Boaz and Ruth, Jesse and David had lived and in which God had previously worked providing a redeemer and a king from which would come Christ. Possibly also because the angelic proclamation to the shepherds is another aspect of the humbleness of the coming of the Son of God – his birth is not marked by nobles and kings but humble shepherds – and for such as these he has come.

We are told that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds. The glory of the Lord, that is, the manifestation of God’s presence had not been seen since the time of David’s son, Solomon. The fields outside Bethlehem rather than the Jerusalem temple are functioning as the meeting place between God and man, as evidenced by the Shekinah glory.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

It is Jesus not the Roman emperor who is the savior and Lord. Notice the titles used of the counterfeit: “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and saviour of the whole world, has brought you peace.” The reference to good news of great joy comes from Isaiah where he speaks of God reversing exile, alienation, and oppression – bringing light and life and joy.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Three reflections on this are below:

1. The bewildering juxtaposition of the Shekinah glory with the humbleness of laying in a manger. The sign intended to give the shepherds knowledge of this mystery – the grace of revelation

2. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its Lord’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. – Israel does not know to come to their owner/Lord’s manger but now the angels direct Israel to the manger where they will come to their Lord. (Isa 1:3)

3. Is lying in a manger and wrapped in cloths an anticipation of the tomb?

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

A host (army) of angels appear. This reminds us of Mary’s war hymn but the angelic army will not fight the war – they simply sing while God – the baby in a manger – wins the victory c.f. Jehoshaphat.

A heavenly multitude of angels reminds us of God’s promises to Abraham of a multitude of people who will be God’s people. The account ends with the small band of shepherds glorifying and praising God as the host of angels had done – heaven and earth together in unison.