25 December 2012Luke 2:1-20
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (v. 15)
On the day when we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, our reading shows us how Luke has used material in his Gospel to make clear that he sees the incarnation to be an event that rights social wrongs, that lifts up the humble and the poor, and topples those who are in unjust power over others. Within the passage we see two examples of this:
- There is the account of how Emperor Augustus became unwittingly involved in the scheme of God to arrange for Christ's birth in Bethlehem to fulfil Old Testament prophecy. Although he had power to order a registration across the whole Roman empire (described as "all the world" (v. 1)), he did not have greater power than the Holy Spirit who, working through this census arranged for Christ to be born in the small but important town which had been prophesied as the place of Messiah's birth eight centuries earlier through the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2).
- More elaborately, there is the Shepherd's encounter with the angel of the Lord and a "multitude of the heavenly host" (v. 13). This is a rich passage indeed - the scene is set (verse 8), their emotions are recorded (verse 9) and both the words of the angels and those of the shepherds are preserved for storytellers and hymn writers throughout history. The account includes their pilgrimage to the nativity where they are welcomed by a contemplative Mary, and presumably a rather puzzled Joseph. What we should consider is how surprising it is to see angels praising God beforeshepherds as an audience, rather than simply seeing angels praising. (After all, this is what angels do!) But to choose a bunch of hard-working, often socially-excluded, manual labourers as the audience for this joyous occasion - and to invite them to go and see the Messiah for themselves - is to demonstrate Luke's Gospel's theme once again: God is on the side of the poor.
- In your area, to whom might God send angels?
- Who are those who really need to hear "good news of great joy" (v. 10)?