Christ the Lord
(A Christmas Meditation)
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 2: 1 — 14
This reading is often used at Christmas and so we will offer some thoughts on St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. The opening chapter (1) of his Gospel account is based on material obtained from the disciples. In chapter 2 the writer adds his own distinct perspective. It is fashionable today to deny the historical value of Luke 1 — 4, and to view it as Christian mythology. You will have to be the judge of that — but take care not to run with every contemporary writer, without checking out their particular theological agenda.
Reflections On Our Text
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the
whole world should be enrolled.
Caesar Augustus decrees that a census of the Empire should be taken, probably to increase the income from taxation. We note how St Luke deliberately places the birth of the Lord in a historical context. He is no legendary figure born “long, long ago in a far away land”. He is placed in the period of the reign of Augustus. It is interesting how history has reversed matters and we really only know when Augustus was emperor because it was during the birth of Jesus.
Verses 2 and 3
This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
We are then given another historical time peg — “Cyrenius (Quirinius) was Governor of Syria”. This has long puzzled the scholars, since the only Cyrenius on record was Governor 5 to 10 years later. The best scholarship offers helpful explanations but they need not preoccupy us in our quest.
Verses 4 and 5
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to
Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he
was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
However awkward some of the historical information is, it is very clear St Luke highlights the political context of the event. The immediate scene is Judea, but the greater world of the Roman Empire is prominent. Joseph and his betrothed, despite her advanced pregnancy, are presented as loyal subjects of Rome and Augustus. There is no resistance from them, though travel to Bethlehem means some loss of income, and genuine hardship. For them it is pure joy to return to the place where a thousand years earlier, King David was born.
Verses 6 and 7
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in
swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there
was no room for them in the inn.
And so Mary gave birth to her “first-born” son. All Christians agree about the humble circumstances but sadly we squabble over whether “first born” means Mary remained “ever a virgin” or whether she had more children. On this point, informed and impartial scholars can be inspiring. Those who stoop to making Scripture fit their private beliefs frequently confuse and mislead their readers.
What we can say with certitude is that “first-born son” is a legal term for the child who was to be presented in the Temple, and in civilian life, to carry on the family name. The spiritual depth of the term is, therefore what should occupy us.
We would probably have no precise clue where our Lord was born but for the Emperor Hadrian who, in A D 135 ensured the little cave Christians held sacred was desecrated by pagan rites and ceremonial prostitution. Thanks to his utter detestation of the so-called Messiah (Christ) of this new sect, the place at least remained clearly identified. Around A D 330 the first Christian Emperor built a basilica over the spot. Though greatly modified and extended, you can visit and pray in this same ancient Church — the oldest in Christendom.
Verses 8 and 9
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and
keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
While the young couple, appropriately attend to the needs of the new born babe, unknown to them another event is about to take place.
Somewhere out in the fields around Bethlehem, where long ago the young David had looked after his father’s sheep, a few shepherds had come together to keep their sheep safe for the night.
Who could be surprised at their terror when “an angel of the Lord” appeared to them and the glory of the Lord (not the angel) shone around them.
Verses 10 and 11
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to
you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is
Messiah and Lord.
The angel, typically, says, “Do not be afraid”, and adds, literally, “I evangelise you (I bring you good news of) a great joy”. Then comes the climax, “For today in the city of David a Saviour has been born for you who is Christ the Lord”. The hope of centuries has been fulfilled.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in
swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Now how would you expect to see the baby with such an illustrious birthright?
As the great English Benedictine historian St Bede wrote, around A D 700 — “We may observe that the sign given us of the new-born Saviour was, that he would be found, not clothed in Tyrian purple, but wrapped in swaddling clothes (strips of cloth), not lying on a gilded couch, but in a manger.”
Verses 13 and 14
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the
angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom
his favour rests.”
Suddenly, the angel is surrounded by a great company of the heavenly host — literally, of the heavenly army.
The poor, uneducated labourers are the chosen audience of the heavenly angelic choir who burst forth in singing their unique anthem.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth,
peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
Henceforth the salvation of the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah, Christ) will belong to all; and be available to those who choose, at least inwardly, to accept it.
This little band of wandering animal carers have been the first to hear the Good News. In good Biblical tradition accordingly they “hasten” to find the babe.
Surrounded by silence, surrounded by the night, the Word who is with God — who is God — is made flesh (John 1). To those who accept him “he gave power to become the children of God”. This is the very essence of Christmas and why we celebrate.
We too can hasten to the crib. All who do so find the child within them liberated to just enjoy being happy:
— happy to be a child
— a child of God
— among children of God.
May Christ the Lord be born in your heart today.
Prayer at Christmas
By Robert Louis Stevenson
The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will. Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus; that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.
Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world?
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children.
And the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching contained in His Word and
Christ the Lord — A Christmas Meditation
St Luke 2: 1 ― 14 Year C
1. Joseph and Mary are hard-working and faithful practising Jews who live peaceably under Roman Law and do not try to avoid their responsibilities even to the Roman Governor.
They were very aware of all the corruption, injustice, oppression and hardship throughout the land. However, they remained faithful followers of God’s Holy Law. They recited several times a day:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.”
They kept their focus on Him and were not swayed by all the cross-currents swirling around them.
We may well find in their example, help to live likewise in an age such as ours — a time of confused moral practice, huge injustices and general displacement of our cultural values.
2. A band of poor uneducated labourers are the chosen audience of a vast heavenly angelic choir who are heard to praise God at the announcement of the Messiah’s birth.
If we pause to think about this, it must have been an awesome experience. The first Christians who heard St. Luke’s account read to them found that by meditating on this passage, they too could sense the power and glory of God’s presence as the Angels offered their praise. Traditionally, Christians have regularly offered their prayers to God in union with those of the Angels. It remains our privilege to continue this great tradition.
3. The shepherds receive a message from God via His messenger: the angel. They lose no time in responding quickly by hastening to find the child and His parents.
Yet again the Scriptures note how the shepherds in their joy, hasten to find the Child Jesus and His parents. The beginnings of the Christian era followed in the true Hebrew culture of responding positively to God’s action — with vitality, urgency and haste: not sluggishly or knock-kneed.
Let us pray for one another that we too, despite all the political cross-currents of our time, may keep our focus on God’s presence and personal message in the celebration of the Messiah’s first Advent: the coming of the Divine Word into our day-to-day world.
Luke 2: 1 — 14
Christ The Lord A Christmas Meditation
1 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar
2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was
3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town
5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was
6 While they were there, the time came for her to have
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. 3 She
8 4 Now there were shepherds in that region living in
9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the
10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold,
11 5 For today in the city of David a savior has been
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant
13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly
14 6 “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to
1 [1-2] Although universal registrations of Roman citizens are attested in 28 B.C., 8 B.C., and A.D. 14 and enrollments in individual provinces of those who are not Roman citizens are also attested, such a universal census of the Roman world under Caesar Augustus is unknown outside the New Testament. Moreover, there are notorious historical problems connected with Luke’s dating the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and the various attempts to resolve the difficulties have proved unsuccessful. P. Sulpicius Quirinius became legate of the province of Syria in A.D. 6-7 when Judea was annexed to the province of Syria. At that time, a provincial census of Judea was taken up. If Quirinius had been legate of Syria previously, it would have to have been before 10 B.C. because the various legates of Syria from 10 B.C. to 4 B.C. (the death of Herod) are known, and such a dating for an earlier census under Quirinius would create additional problems for dating the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (⇒ Luke 3:1, ⇒ 23). A previous legateship after 4 B.C. (and before A.D. 6) would not fit with the dating of Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod (⇒ Luke 1:5; ⇒ Matthew 2:1). Luke may simply be combining Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with his vague recollection of a census under Quirinius (see also ⇒ Acts 5:37) to underline the significance of this birth for the whole Roman world: through this child born in Bethlehem peace and salvation come to the empire.
2  Caesar Augustus: the reign of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus is usually dated from 27 B.C. to his death in A.D. 14. According to Greek inscriptions, Augustus was regarded in the Roman Empire as “savior” and “god,” and he was credited with establishing a time of peace, the pax Augusta, throughout the Roman world during his long reign. It is not by chance that Luke relates the birth of Jesus to the time of Caesar Augustus: the real savior (⇒ Luke 2:11) and peace-bearer (⇒ Luke 2:14; see also ⇒ Luke 19:38) is the child born in Bethlehem. The great emperor is simply God’s agent (like the Persian king Cyrus in ⇒ Isaiah 44:28-⇒ 45:1) who provides the occasion for God’s purposes to be accomplished. The whole world: that is, the whole Roman world: Rome, Italy, and the Roman provinces.
3  Firstborn son: the description of Jesus as firstborn son does not necessarily mean that Mary had other sons. It is a legal description indicating that Jesus possessed the rights and privileges of the firstborn son (Genesis 27; ⇒ Exodus 13:2; ⇒ Numbers 3:12-13; ⇒ 18:15-16; ⇒ Deut 21:15-17). See the notes on ⇒ Matthew 1:25; ⇒ Mark 6:3. Wrapped him in swaddling clothes: there may be an allusion here to the birth of another descendant of David, his son Solomon, who though a great king was wrapped in swaddling clothes like any other infant (⇒ Wisdom 7:4-6). Laid him in a manger: a feeding trough for animals. A possible allusion to ⇒ Isaiah 1:3 LXX.
4 [8-20] The announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the lowly are singled out as the recipients of God’s favors and blessings (see also ⇒ Luke 1:48, ⇒ 52).
5  The basic message of the infancy narrative is contained in the angel’s announcement: this child is savior, Messiah, and Lord. Luke is the only synoptic gospel writer to use the title savior for Jesus (⇒ Luke 2:11; ⇒ Acts 5:31; ⇒ 13:23; see also ⇒ Luke 1:69; ⇒ 19:9; ⇒ Acts 4:12). As savior, Jesus is looked upon by Luke as the one who rescues humanity from sin and delivers humanity from the condition of alienation from God. The title christos, “Christ,” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew masiah, “Messiah,” “anointed one.” Among certain groups in first-century Palestinian Judaism, the title was applied to an expected royal leader from the line of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel (see ⇒ Acts 1:6). The political overtones of the title are played down in Luke and instead the Messiah of the Lord (⇒ Luke 2:26) or the Lord’s anointed is the one who now brings salvation to all humanity, Jew and Gentile (⇒ Luke 2:29-32). Lord is the most frequently used title for Jesus in Luke and Acts. In the New Testament it is also applied to Yahweh, as it is in the Old Testament. When used of Jesus it points to his transcendence and dominion over humanity.
6  On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests: the peace that results from the Christ event is for those whom God has favored with his grace. This reading is found in the oldest representatives of the Western and Alexandrian text traditions and is the preferred one; the Byzantine text tradition, on the other hand, reads: “on earth peace, good will toward men.” The peace of which Luke’s gospel speaks (⇒ Luke 2:14; ⇒ 7:50; ⇒ 8:48; ⇒ 10:5-6; ⇒ 19:38, ⇒ 42; ⇒ 24:36) is more than the absence of war of the pax Augusta; it also includes the security and well-being characteristic of peace in the Old Testament.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised