The Birth of Jesus
- Main text: Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
- Accompanying text: Psalm 146:5 or Luke 1:46-55
Although Luke was not an eyewitness to the events recorded in his gospel, he states in his preface that he has consulted others who were, and that he has understood thoroughly everything that has been passed onto him from the beginning (Luke 1:1-4). This is both Luke’s qualification for writing an historical record  and his assertion to Theophilus that what he writes can be confirmed with the original eyewitnesses, many of whom were still alive.  ‘Given the personal nature of some of the accounts surrounding the birth of Jesus, traditions enshrined in Luke’s birth narrative must ultimately be attributable to Mary.’ 
Luke 2:1-5 – The census
Luke places his account in an historical setting emphasising that, in dealing with the birth of Jesus, he is engaging with fact and not with a fairy tale. Augustine reigned as emperor from 27 BCE to 14 CE. The Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, note that Augustus kept statistics on direct and indirect taxation that could only be deduced from a census.  According to Josephus, Quirinius, governor of Syria, conducted a census in 6 CE,  and, as he performed military functions in Syria before becoming governor, he could have been involved in an earlier census.  However, verse 2 could be translated to indicate that this census took place before Quirinius became governor.  Seemingly this census was conducted along traditional Jewish lines, thus necessitating people to return to their ancestral homes. 
Luke 2:6-7 – The birth
That Jesus was laid in a manger has been taken traditionally to mean that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for his parents in a commercial inn. It is more likely that Joseph and Mary were staying with family, and that, when they arrived, the room allocated to them was already taken, hence ‘there was no guest room available for them’ (v.2 NIV). This does not mean that Joseph and Mary were shown to a barn. A typical village home would consist of the guest room (which was full) and a large enclosed room where the family lived, separated by a raised platform from an area where the animals were kept. The host family accepted Joseph and Mary into their living quarters, and Mary gave birth there, putting Jesus to bed in a manger in the living area. 
Beasley-Murray suggests that this passage can be used by the preacher to highlight the need to make room for Jesus in our lives and to make room for others in distress since Jesus can be seen in the hungry and thirsty. Also, the un-hygienic nature of a manger is a sign of Jesus being born into the mess and muddle of human existence in order to share our experience. 
Luke 2:8-20 – The angels and the Shepherds
The first people to hear the message of the birth of Jesus were a group of shepherds, who were despised and towards the bottom of the social class of their society. They were kept from observing the ceremonial law and had a bad reputation for taking things that weren’t theirs.
They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law-courts, . Yet it was to these people that God sent his angelic choir showing that Jesus’ birth is ‘good news that will cause great joy for all the people’ (v.10) (Emphasis mine).
Despite their lowly status the response of these shepherds to the angel’s message is instructive. First, they followed up on what they heard and did so immediately (vv.15-16). Second, having seen Jesus and confirmed what the angel told them – they couldn’t keep it to themselves. They went spreading the word about these events and those that heard were amazed (vv.17-18). Ironically those who were not allowed to give formal testimony were now testifying to the birth of the Saviour, Messiah and Lord (v.11), providing evidence that God includes everyone in his service no matter what their background. Third, the shepherd’s response to all they had seen and heard was to worship God (v.20). As Beasley-Murray comments, ‘what an example they set us.’ 
Finally we are told that ‘Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (v.19). She did not forget any of these incredible events. Rather she thought about them deeply over the coming years, enabling her to share her memories of that momentous time and in so doing became one of the chief source of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. 
- Matthew 1:18-25
- John 1:9-18
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2006. 123-124.
- Michael Wilcock, The Bible Speaks Today: The Saviour of the world: the Message of Luke’s gospel, 1979. 25.
- Paul Beasley-Murray, Joy to the World, Preaching the Christmas story, 2005. 64.
- Tacitus, Annals 1.1, Suetonius, Life of Augustine, 94, in Beasley-Murray. 81.
- Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 26, in Leon Morris, Luke: an introduction and commentary, 1988, 99.
- Beasley-Murray, 82.
- NIV footnote: Or This census took place before.
- Beasley-Murray, 82.
- Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 2008, 25-37.
- Beasley-Murray, 87-88.
- Morris, 101.
- Beasley-Murray, 98.
- Beasley-Murray, 98.