A Retelling of the Birth of Jesus
Before the birth of Jesus, an order went out from Caesar Augustus that a census should be taken. It was a power move. Not only to show who was in charge of the empire, but to tax the people as well. It was a time that caused unrest for the people. They'd have to travel back to their hometowns. They'd have to deal with tax collectors. And it couldn't have happened at a worse time for Joseph and Mary.
Mary was at the end of her pregnancy and it was an 80 mile journey, taking several days to complete. Imagine having to walk or ride a donkey, fully pregnant, and do that for several days just to pay taxes and become a part of the official Roman headcount. To make matters worse, Joseph and Mary wouldn't be able to find a real place to stay when they did arrive and they'd have to stay where the animals were kept at night in a first century home.
It was there that she would give birth to Jesus, laying him in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals. It's not the way we would like to think of the Messiah entering the world but maybe it was the absolute best way for the Messiah to enter the world. In silence, in humility, in the unfamiliar and unknown because that is where the heart of God begins to shine.
Nearby, some shepherds were tending to their flocks. And while Caesar Augustus made his royal court in Rome, God had decided to make his royal court the fields where these shepherds lay. Caesar Augustus may have proclaimed a census from Rome but God would make his proclamation that the Messiah had entered the world by sending his messenger angels to the least likely and the oft forgotten.
And the proclamation wasn't impersonal. It was very personal. God, through angels, told these shepherds that unto YOU, I proclaim good news of great joy that will be for all the people. A census was bad news for the people. It was evidence of an oppressive thumb. The news of a Messiah though, it was news that God had come to rescue the world.
And perhaps the most amazing thing of all for these poor shepherds, It wasn't just an announcement of Good News. God was inviting them to come and see, to go and see the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes, to see that God really had entered the world as a multitude of angels appeared to them from nowhere, celebrating the peace of God that had entered the world.
- Narrative Lectionary Commentary
- Caesar versus Jesus: A Lesson in True Power
- Why did angels appear to the shepherds?
- Jesus as Immanuel
- Magi Visit
Storyline Commentary on Luke 2:1-14, 15-20; 1:46-55
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting A decree has gone out from Caesar Augustus that a a census should be taken so people were traveling back to their ancestral homes. Joseph and Mary were traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The Characters Caesar Augustus, Quirinius governing Syria, Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, Shepherds in the fields, an Angel from the Lord announcing the birth of the Savior to the shepherds.
The Tension A census is a political event. It's to show who's in charge. Who's in power. And it's a way to make the citizens of the empire pay for the emperor's reign over them. It's a way to keep things in check from a human standard. The tension can be found by contrasting the way Caesar Augustus executes power and the way God executes power. There is peace through military might under Caesar's power. But God is sending a messenger to announce God's peace will enter the world in a different way.
The Resolution God doesn't need military might to execute power. God enters the world through the infant Jesus, humbly, silently, and under the care of human frailty. While Caesar's royal court consisted of the high and mighty, God makes his royal court with lowly shepherds tending their flocks, announcing the birth of the Messiah, announcing that peace had come.
The Through Line The Messiah has come into the world and the way he enters reveals the heart of God.
Reflections on the Birth of Jesus
Why has this story endured? This is the story of God entering the world to walk among us and the way in which it happened makes a connection with the human heart that causes pause for us. Our way of doing things versus the way God does things comes into stark contrast and it's easy to to see that the way God does things is for the good of all people.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Humanity still exercises power poorly. In the process of trying to make things better we still step all over one another and this was true in Jesus' day. More importantly, the Jesus that entered the world 2 millennia ago is still with us today through the Holy Spirit.
How does this story help us love God? This story can cause pause for us. We don't best exercise our love for God through might. It's our humility that aligns with who God is.
How does this story help us love others? It would be easy to thrash people who use their power poorly. That's not Jesus. Jesus was sacrificial for even those set against him. Infant Jesus would be considered an enemy by some, and the story about Jesus and his family having to flee to Egypt wouldn't change Jesus' teaching about loving enemies.
Reflections based on Luke 2:1-14, 15-20; 1:46-55