Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Luke 2 - Good News of Great Joy for All People Everywhere

(Click here to read Luke 2)

 Luke 2:8-12, 29-32 (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
     according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31      that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Just as it was established in the first chapter of Luke, the themes of Jesus and the gospel for the poor, oppressed and marginalized remain in full force. The Holy Spirit at work is not explicitly mentioned as in the first chapter, but her presence is still felt in the worship of angels and ancestors.

Mary and Joseph themselves are presented as a family of little means. The gift of two turtledoves mentioned in v24 is based on the Jewish law in Leviticus 12:8 describing an alternative sacrifice for a poor woman who cannot afford a lamb.

Jesus himself is born in an animal's feeding trough, hardly a circumstance one would imagine representing the birth of a king or King of kings. He is born while his family is displaced outside of their power by a foreign empire. Jesus has a humble family and humble beginnings.

The announcement of his birth is not declared to the wisest ot most powerful in Luke's gospel. Shepherds were a despised and marginalized people. They lived in poverty outside of mainstream society. In this account, these dirty punks are the people honoured to hear of the birth of Messiah. The Good News is presented first to the poor and marginalized.

(The wise men do not make it into this account. Even though they too were outsiders, being of a different ethnicity an faith from Mary and Joseph, Luke leaves them out and keeps the story in the realm of the poor alone.)

The message by the angels is also universal and uplifting. Verse 10 has the angels happily describing the humble birth as "good news of great joy for *all* people". In verse 18, many people marvel at the story of the shepherds, making these despised outsiders the first to carry the good news of Jesus.

The theme continues as Jesus is presented in the temple. Old man Simeon declares *first* that Jesus is a light "to the Gentiles" even before saying he has been sent to his own people (v32). Jesus came for everyone, not just religious insiders (See Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 52:10). In Luke's second book, Acts 13:46-47, Paul and Barnabus declare that they are carrying on Jesus' work by bringing his message of the kingdom to the Greeks, the religious and ethnic outsiders.

The second half of the chapter has Jesus' family returning to and settling in Nazareth of Galilee. Galilee was a neighbourhood on "the other side of the tracks", considered backward and unimportant. While the centre of religious and political power occurred in urban and ethnically homogenous Jerusalem, Galilee was a small town of little influence, known for it's communities of ethnic minorities and seasonal workers such as fishermen. Galileans had an accent that marked them as uneducated and unimportant when they ventured outside their region. Jesus probably carried an accent similar to how our culture perceives a Southern accent, or perhaps a Newfoundland lilt. It is from this multicultural and forgotten neighbourhood that Jesus gathers his disciples and begins his ministry.

And just as he did in the first chapter, Luke reminds his upper class and educated audience that this poor, backwoods, politically oppressed rural hick is indeed the son of God. Against all certain expectation of the rich and powerful, the poor, underprivileged young boy Jesus describes the temple as his "Father's house", after impressing the educated religious elite with his wisdom.


vv8-14 – This is Linus’ reading from "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown"

v25 – This is the second “old man” to welcome the Messiah with praise and prophesy. This probably establishes that Jesus’ birth is good news for the Jewish people and anticipated by his ancestors.

v42 – Jesus is circumcised, Jesus goes to the temple as is the custom – establishes Jesus’ faithful Jewish upbringing.

v51 – Jesus obeyed his parents. This chapter frequently mentions Jesus and his family following their customs. This shows that Jesus is indeed raised in submission and respect to Jewish law, but also serves to explain to the non-Jewish reader the reasons for his parent's actions. These customs may not have been immediately understood to the outsider Luke is so keen to make understand.

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