Read: Luke 2:1-21
Without a doubt, this passage is one of my all time favorites. I can still close my eyes and see myself as a pre-teen reading this in front of Church of The Way Presbyterian in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (a very long time ago). Luke’s masterful writing of Jesus’ birth is a wonderful work of art that gives us historical context, the intrigue of angels, interaction with shepherds, and a view of the most humble servants on the planet: Mary and Joseph.
Humble beginnings is certainly one of the themes we take from this passage. A young couple, a manger, shepherds, in a small town. Nothing about this evokes the beginnings of a kingdom. No doubt by design, of course, as Herod and the Roman authorities are unaware of the details.
I wish we knew more about Joseph. Matthew provides a bit more detail about how Joseph accepted his role (see Matthew 1:18-25 and my thoughts from August 2017 and May 2015). Suffice it to say, Joseph was a man of honor.
In the past, I read this verse as a simple statement of fact:
He went there to register with Mary, … Luke 2:5a
But in researching the passage, one author noted that Mary didn’t have to go with Joseph to complete his obligation for registration. Perhaps this would be better stated, from an ancient viewpoint, as Joseph didn’t need to take Mary with him. They weren’t married, she was pregnant, and he simply had an obligation to fulfill.
In my worldview, of course they went together, but in ancient days, the husband/wife roles were much different. Luke’s observation provides insight into the humble birth of the Son of God while giving us a glimpse into the worthiness of Mary and Joseph, as noted in my opening remarks, an incredibly humble young Jewish couple.
The long awaited Messiah is announced to the average Joe, just common folk out doing their very ordinary job of tending to sheep. This is incredibly encouraging for us to consider. The Creator of the universe demonstrates His desire to be with His people by walking with us as a human (honestly, this concept is far to grand for me to consider, but I’m over that by now!). What could be more fitting than to involve the average working class people: shepherds.
The NIVAC makes an important observation to complete this thought:
Noteworthy too is the choice of shepherds to be among the first to hear about the new child and see him. Some commentators argue that the shepherds symbolize God’s meeting the despised, but this negative reputation for shepherds is later than the first-century Judaism. 1NIV Application Commentary
From King David’s upbringing as a shepherd to the imagery in Psalm 23 and many other places throughout the Bible, we walk away with the idea that being a shepherd isn’t a grand job, but it is one that fuels the agricultural economy of the day. Shepherds might have later become a despised bunch, but in context, we hope to learn how to shepherd flocks as pastors tend to wayward sheep.
I really wish I could see something even remotely close to this scene.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14
Even if I needed a change of clothing after the event (use your imagination), I would love to witness something this spectacular! I hope that there is a video replay room in heaven that allows us to see what that looked like and how the shepherds responded. I’m lost in the wonder of the scene.
The angels can’t sit idle, they simply must enter the scene in full chorus. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for, the day that has been foretold for so many years. How magnificent and how wonderful is our God who wants to be with us!
Our Catholic brothers and sisters honor Mary with great dignity, seeing her as one who must be highly regarded. Luke’s words are few and yet powerful:
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19
Having watched a few videos recently of the Gospel accounts, Mary is depicted as one of few words, but careful actions. When we fast-forward to the crucifixion scene, we know Mary is there and I’m sure this moment comes to mind. She’s been visited by an angel, told of her role, knows beyond a doubt that she is a virgin (I’m confident most would not agree), and delivers Jesus in a manger, gently wrapping him in cloths.
Mary is an amazing example of a humble servant.
I know I’ve used the word humble a five or six times in this post, but I can’t help but consider the significance of the word. The opposite might be arrogant or pretentious, a position Mary could have taken given the fact that this is the Messiah she’s holding! But the lesson here is for us to consider and the repetition of the word is fitting in my mind.
As we attempt to spread the Gospel of Jesus throughout our world, we must learn from Joseph, the shepherds, and Mary — we must exude humility. In fulfilling our roles as disciple makers, we build relationships by loving people, not by cowering over them. Yes, we are heirs to the kingdom that will never end, members of a select group that embody the power of the universe, but we have no right to inflect a pious attitude on anyone.
If some loud proclamation is appropriate, let’s let the angels enter the scene with their heavenly trumpets!
Lord, thank you for this beautiful passage. Help us to be like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, humble servants of the King of kings.
- Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland , David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 45918-45920). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.