25 December 2014Luke 2:1-20
“Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (vv. 10-11)
Psalm: Psalm 110
This is perhaps one of the most famous of all passages in the entire Bible, in Britain today. We hear it in church, in schools, on television and radio. But equally familiar are some of the elements of tradition, which play no part in the Gospel narrative. In fact, stripped of these traditional additions, the first part of the story in Luke's Gospel is a model of simplicity.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken at least four days, before we begin to take account of Mary's advanced state of pregnancy. But no details are given to us about how they travelled (no donkey is mentioned!), or how arduous a journey they must have had. We are simply told that they went. And no innkeepers are described, either turning them away or finding them a corner in a stable, with clean straw. Rather, we have simply the mention that there was "no place for them in the inn" (v. 7). This would not refer to a hotel as we understand it, but perhaps a room in a private house, where people might pay to stay. Mary lays Jesus in a manger, which might have been in the part of the house where animals were kept, or maybe in a cave, used for shelter for animals.
Whatever the detail, we are just given the simplest facts. Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him up and found what she could to act as a crib. A human child was born in obscurity.
But then surprising things ensue. Some shepherds, minding their own business, receive an unexpected visitor. The angel, accompanied by the very glory of the Lord, proclaims an event which is far from human or obscure. The child he proclaims is 'Saviour', 'Messiah', 'Lord'. A redeemer has been given to Israel, in the line of David - in David's very town. A human child, born in obscurity, is at the same time a child sent from God, with angelic fanfare, to glorify God and to bring God's peace.
- In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, there are reports of women in labour being turned away from hospitals that are overstretched because of the ebola epidemic or afraid of infection. Some women end up giving birth on the streets. Those who are lucky survive. Occasionally, so does the baby. As we remember the birth in makeshift circumstances of another child for whom there was no room, what must our response be?
- Shepherds were among society's lowest members. They are living in the fields, outside the town and outside civic society. Yet it is to them that the angels make their proclamation. Who needs to hear the message of goodwill, of peace and of salvation this Christmas?
- The message that is given is one of "good news of great joy". The shepherds go to see the baby and come home "glorifying and praising God" (v. 20). How are you celebrating today?