In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 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 Andthis will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
A Picture of Christmas
If we were asked to draw a picture of Christmas we might draw shepherds, angels, three wise men, a manger, Mary and Joseph, a star, lots of animals looking serenely into the face of a sleeping Jesus who has wisps of blond hair and a glowing halo. It’s all quite Hallmark, but surround these religious details with robins, snow-flakes, and reindeer and we seem to have lost the point completely. Our view of the ‘stable’ is obscured by the details we have added, for example it doesn’t say about any animals being present. N.T. Wright suggests that Mary and Joseph were housed on the ground floor of a two-story structure in a room that was duel purpose. It could be used for animals, but also could be used for a spare room. The analogy might be to see the room more like an American garage than like a barn.
In Luke there are no kings and some of the other details found in Matthew are missing. The common man is highlighted as empowered by God as messengers of good news. There will be peace on earth. There will be shalom. God is reharmonizing, reconciling and embracing the world through a strange birth with a baby in a feeding trough.
In all the many details of Christmas we may miss the point.
God, I don’t know when you came to earth in the person of Jesus. Jesus, I don’t know all the details of your birth. However, I do know that you gave up the best situation in the world to enter the squalor of our world.
- What details are present in the story that we associate with Christmas?
- What details are absent?
- What is the point of the story?
- How does Philippians 2 apply the events of this story?
- How do you bring the story of God’s peace to those who lack peace, especially peace with God?