Jesus’ birth narratives are fascinating, and they’re loaded with powerful statements about who Jesus was and what he came to do. Unfortunately, these important teachings are sometimes obscured by the Christmas season as the birth of Jesus is romanticized and sanitized (or ignored). Of all the gospel writers, Luke includes the most historical details about Jesus’ birth, and Sunday we’re going to study and reflect on his version of this beautiful story.
Last week we studied his account of John the Baptist’s birth, and Luke intentionally includes some parallels between the two births. He also writes about some significant differences, one of which was the “multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (2:13). Luke wants his readers to recognize clearly that this baby was different from John: greater in every respect, One so special that God sent the angels of heaven to sing a hymn on the night of his birth. This baby was the fulfillment of promises God had made years before, and the world would never be the same again. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11).
But at the same time, God made a more subtle statement about the kind of Savior Jesus would be: the announcement came to a group of shepherds in the hills around Bethlehem. Contrary to how shepherds are often perceived–particularly in the Christmas season–they weren’t these idyllic, peaceful caretakers of sheep that we might’ve thought. They were generally regarded as dishonest and best left alone by good religious folks. But this fits with the theme of Luke’s gospel: Jesus came to minister to the humble and poor, so it was appropriate that the first locals to hear about the birth of God’s Son were these humble shepherds avoided by others.
In other words, this birth story encapsulates the theology of the incarnation: God–the eternal and sovereign Creator of the universe–became a helpless baby whose birth was first announced not among the rich and powerful of Rome but among the poor and humble of the Judean countryside.
This is why we live as people of hope–because of who this baby was. And what he did when he grew up.