Christ the Lord
Christmas Year B and C
Luke 2: 1 — 14
As this is the year of Luke in the three year set of Sunday Gospel readings we will offer some thoughts on St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. The opening chapter (1) of his Gospel account is based on material obtained from the disciples. In chapter 2 the writer adds his own distinct perspective. It is fashionable today to deny the historical value of Luke 1 — 4, and to view it as Christian mythology. You will have to be the judge of that — but take care not to run with every contemporary writer, without checking out their particular theological agenda.
Notes On Our Text
Caesar Augustus decrees that a census of the Empire should be taken, probably to increase the income from taxation. We note how.
St Luke deliberately places the birth of the Lord in a historical context. He is no legendary figure born “long, long ago in a far away land”. He is placed in the period of the reign of Augustus. It is interesting how history has reversed matters and we really only know when Augustus was emperor because it was during the birth of Jesus.
Verses 2 — 3 We are then given another historical time peg — “Cyrenius (Quirinius) was Governor of Syria”. This has long puzzled the scholars, since the only Cyrenius on record was Governor 5 to 10 years later. The best scholarship offers helpful explanations but they need not preoccupy us in our quest.
Verses 4 and 5
However awkward some of the historical information is, it is very clear St Luke highlights the political context of the event. The immediate scene is Judea, but the greater world of the Roman Empire is prominent. Joseph and his betrothed, despite her advanced pregnancy, are presented as loyal subjects of Rome and Augustus. There is no resistance from them, though it means some loss of income, and genuine hardship. For them it is pure joy to return to the place where a thousand years earlier, King David was born.
Verses 6 and 7
And so Mary gave birth to her “first-born” son. All Christians agree about the humble circumstances but sadly we squabble over whether “first born” means Mary remained “ever a virgin” or whether she had more children. On this point, informed and impartial scholars can be inspiring. Those who stoop to making Scripture fit their private beliefs frequently confuse and mislead their readers.
What we can say with certitude is that “first-born son” is a legal term for the child who was to be presented in the Temple, and in civilian life, to carry on the family name. The spiritual depth of the term is, therefore what should occupy us.
We would probably have no precise clue where our Lord was born but for the Emperor Hadrian who, in A D 135 ensured the little cave Christians held sacred was desecrated by pagan rites and ceremonial prostitution Thanks to his utter detestation of the so-called Messiah (Christ) of this new sect, the place at least remained clearly identified. Around A D 330 the first Christian Emperor built a basilica over the spot. Though greatly modified and extended, you can visit and pray in this same ancient Church — the oldest in Christendom.
Verses 8 and 9
While the young couple, appropriately attend to the needs of the new born babe, unknown to them another event is about to take place.
Somewhere out in the fields around Bethlehem, where long ago the young David had looked after his father’s sheep, a few shepherds had come together to keep their sheep safe for the night.
Who could be surprised at their terror when “an angel of the Lord” appeared to them and the glory of the Lord (not the angel) shone around them.
Verses 10 and 11
The angel, typically, says, “Do not be afraid”, and adds, literally, “I evangelise you (I bring you good news of) a great joy”. Then comes the climax, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ (Messiah) The Lord”. The hope of centuries has been fulfilled.
Now how would you expect to see the baby with such an illustrious birthright?
As the great English Benedictine historian St Bede wrote, around A D 700 — “We may observe that the sign given us of the new-born Saviour was, that he would be found, not clothed in Tyrian purple, but wrapped in swaddling clothes, not lying on a gilded couch, but in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel is surrounded by a great company of the heavenly host — literally, of the heavenly army.
The poor, uneducated labourers are the chosen audience of the heavenly angelic choir who burst forth in singing their unique anthem.
“Glory to God in the highest,
Henceforth the salvation of the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah, Christ) will belong to all; and be available to those who choose, at least inwardly, to accept it.
This little band of wandering animal carers have been the first to hear the Good News. In good Biblical tradition accordingly they “hasten” to find the babe.
Surrounded by silence, surrounded by the night, the Word who is with God — who is God — is made flesh (John 1). To those who accept him “he gave power to become the children of God”. This is the very essence of Christmas and why we celebrate.
We too can hasten to the crib. All who do so find the child within them liberated to just enjoy being happy
May Christ the Lord be born in your heart today.
Community of Affirmation 24.12.2000
Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation