The birth of Jesus is often romanticised and sentimentalised, a scene of warmth and cleanliness, free from pain and dirt. The reality was quite different, with a relatively poor mother giving birth in a stable (or a cave) with none of the modern aids or pain relief. This, however, was also one of the most important events in world history. We turn now to consider Luke 2:1-20 The Saviour born
1. The Lord’s providence
Everything in these events depends on the providence of God. The historical information of v1-2 is very specific. Luke writes of a God who acts in history to fulfil his purpose. He overrules the actions of the Roman emperor so that Jesus is born in Bethlehem (v4), underlining his Davidic ancestry and fulfilling prophecies such as 2 Samuel 7. We see his providence also in relation to this humble family (v4-5) – for the incarnation of the Son, the birth of the Messiah, God has chosen an obscure couple and has brought them to a small town for a birth in poor circumstances. This is the Messiah who ‘for your sakes became poor’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). God reverses human expectations to fulfil his will.
2. The angel’s message
The announcement of the Messiah’s birth is given by an ‘angel of the Lord’ (v9, probably Gabriel) to ‘shepherds living out in the fields nearby’ (v8). The message is astounding – ‘good news of great joy’ with worldwide significance – ‘that will be for all the people’ (v10). The Gentiles too are involved. Central is the Messiah, described in the most exalted terms – ‘a Saviour…he is Christ the Lord’ (v11). He is God, come to perform a redemptive work. The response of ‘the heavenly host’ (v13) is to give ‘glory to God in the highest’ (v14). The peace the Messiah gives is reconciliation to God for ‘those on whom his favour rests’.
3. The shepherds’ praise
The reversal of expectations continues. Shepherds were ritually unclean and generally had a bad reputation for thieving. God chooses outcasts on the fringes of society to hear ‘good news’ (v10). The Messiah has ‘not come to call the righteous, but sinners to salvation’ (Luke 5:32). The flocks may have been for sacrifice in the Temple, reminding us of the sacrificial work of the Messiah which brings forgiveness. There is an urgency in their response as they ‘spread the word’ (v17). All who trust in the Messiah have a duty and privilege to witness.
4. The mother’s thoughts
These are events of world significance. It is therefore not surprising to read of Mary’s response: she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (v19). Mary was a woman of profound faith, as 1:46-55 shows. She has an understanding of the significance of the work of her Son but has much to learn. No doubt the Holy Spirit instructs her as she ponders. It must have been a great comfort to her to grasp gradually how the Lord was working through her.