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Luke 2:1-21: The Birth of Jesus

When reading, thinking about a super familiar passage, sometimes it is difficult to lay the familiarity aside to allow the passage to speak to us. Our pastor preached on Luke 2:1-21 last week. I’ve been thinking about this passage all week. Three ideas stick with me.

While [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:6-7

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:6-7

In Luke 1, Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the SON of God! That He would be the KING of an eternal kingdom! Last week we looked at Zechariah’s song where he noted that the coming baby would be the rising sun, the DAYSPRING guiding our feet into the path of peace. So these first verses, the baby’s birth sleeping in a feeding trough, raises all sorts of questions. Why the great contrast? We have noted before the significant reversals in the kingdom of God! And the birth of Jesus is one beautiful illustration!

God reminds us that environment is not the critical element in the stories of our lives. What is important is our relationship with the Father!

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 

Luke 2:8-10

I love that the angel of the Lord brought the message to shepherds on the hillside. Some say the shepherds were ordinary, doing the “everyman’s” work. God is reiterating that the Savior’s coming will affect all strata of life by coming to them!

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. …I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Ezekiel 34:11,12,15,16

God, Himself, is described as a shepherd. As Israel (Jacob) blesses Joseph’s sons in his last days, he testifies that God has been his shepherd all of his life. He repeats that same idea when he blesses Joseph. The prophet Jeremiah records God’s message that although God scattered his flock, He will watch over them like a shepherd. Later in Jeremiah, God asks who the shepherd that can stand against Him is. (Jeremiah 31:10; 49:19; 50:44)

In the Old Testament, shepherds are often portrayed as leaders, and we have several examples of “good” shepherds. Abel gave God the fat portions of his offering; Moses supervised his father-in-law’s flocks; David was the song-writing, worshiping shepherd. By including shepherds in the birth story, God relates to scripture where He referred to Himself as Shepherd, reminding His people who He is in their lives.

God could also be saying one of your own kind is being born tonight – Jesus, the Good Shepherd. But not just that. These were Bethlehem shepherds who were in charge of raising the sacrificial lambs for the Temple. Who better to hear about the birth of Jesus, the Lamb of God, than the shepherds tending those that would be sacrificed!

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” … He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

Micah 5:2, 4

Jesus will be both the sacrificial Lamb who takes away our sin
and our GOOD shepherd.

The last image in this story that is both so familiar and yet so unusual is the great company of the heavenly host! Throughout scripture, we get glimpses of angels as messengers, most often visiting man alone. We don’t know how many angels there are -only two are named – but there are a few references to the host of angels. I love the word picture in 2 Kings 6. The King of Aram wants to capture Elisha, but he has gone to Dothan. He sends a mighty army to capture this one man of God. When Elisha’s servant looks out the door the following day, he is terrified. Elisha calms him and prays:

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:16-17

The author of Hebrews reiterates that there are thousands upon thousands of angels in a joyful assembly in the city of God. And of course, John records his revelation saying he looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand, all praising God!

We don’t know a whole lot about angels. They are created beings, they carry out some of God’s plans, and they glorify God! Maybe, more importantly, angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. (Hebrews 1:14)

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 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 2:10-14

The angels’ message was clear about who this baby would be … a savior, the Messiah, the Lord! We know from the Old Testament that the “savior” was God’s servant or messenger who would come to deliver His people! Jesus is only referred to as Savior in one other verse in the New Testament – John 4:42! Messiah indicated that He was the anointed one – all kings, prophets, priests were anointed. And Lord showed his authority over all things – a title of deity!

No wonder the angels sing in glory – To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing — let “Glory!” ring
with peace to all on earth!

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of the heavens.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still
the dear Christ enters in.

Phillips Brooks, 1868

*Follow the sermon series on Christ Church Cedar Park website.

**Blog posts from this series:

Luke 1:57-80 Zechariah’s Song of Praise
Luke 1:39-56 Mary’s Song of Praise
Luke 1:26-38 Mary Meets Gabriel
Luke 1:5-25 He Takes Away Our Disgrace
Luke 1:1-4 Luke-The Preface

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