Thursday, February 25, 2010

Luke 2

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel."
33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
41 Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Festival, according to the custom. 43 After the Festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
49 "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And as Jesus grew up, he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people.

Points of Interest:

• ‘while Quirinius was governor of Syria’—while we might say something like, ‘Back in 1975,’ it was standard during Luke’s day to place events by referring to the ruler who was in power. Luke will do the same at the beginning of tomorrow’s passage.

• ‘to Bethlehem the town of David’—Bethlehem was David’s home town, and Joseph is of David’s family; but that wouldn’t be reason enough for Joseph to go to Bethlehem for the census. People were required to pay tax where they owned property, not in their family’s ancestral home; so Joseph must have owned property in Bethlehem (IVP Bible Background Commentary 193). Regardless of the exact reason for Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, it does call to mind yet another old prophecy:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are of old,
from ancient times (Micah 5:2).

This future-but-somehow-ancient ruler from Bethlehem cannot be David, because Micah is speaking long after David’s time. From Nazareth, but born in Bethlehem, Jesus is both the Prince of Peace expected from Galilee (Isaiah 9) and the ancient ruler to come from Bethlehem (Micah 5). All of Israel’s hopes for a glorious restoration are coming together in this child.

• ‘He went there to register with Mary’—returning home with an already pregnant fiancĂ©e could have been embarrassing for Joseph; he and Mary could have avoided scandal by keeping Mary quietly out of sight somewhere. Perhaps Mary makes the trip because she is also required to pay tax in Bethlehem (IVP Bible Background Commentary 193), or they don’t want to be apart when Mary is so close to giving birth. Or maybe they’ve simply decided not to act ashamed when they have nothing to be ashamed of.

• ‘there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby’—since shepherds lived a semi-nomadic life, on the open countryside much of the time with their flocks, they were outsiders, and considered a bit uncivilized (IVP Bible Background Commentary 194). They might be a surprising choice as the first to hear the great news that the Savior has arrived. Maybe the shepherds were told because this was good news that simply had to be shared with someone, right away, and they were awake while everyone else was asleep. Maybe they were told because this good news was for everyone, including—even especially—the humble (see Mary’s song from Tuesday’s passage). It’s also worth noting that the Bible holds shepherds in higher esteem than society in general: Moses, the great deliverer of the Israelites from Egypt, was a shepherd; so was king David; and the ruler who is to come from Bethlehem is called a strong and majestic shepherd (Micah 5:4). So, maybe the shepherds are told the good news about Jesus first because he himself will be, like David, a shepherd as well as a king.

• ‘he is the Messiah, the Lord’—Messiah means, ‘anointed,’ or, ‘commissioned by God for a purpose.’ It’s the term the Jews came to use for God’s special agent, sent to restore everything to the way it should be. They formed their idea of the Messiah by collecting all of the prophecies we’ve been referring to, as well as several others and a bunch of the Psalms, into something of a composite picture of a great, but somewhat enigmatic, ruler or savior to come at the end of days. In these prophecies, like in the angel’s pronouncement here, it’s sometimes a bit unclear as to whether it is God himself coming, or a human being whom he has chosen.

• ‘a great company of the heavenly host appeared’—the Roman emperors had choirs who would sing their praises (IVP Bible Background Commentary 194); Jesus has a choir of angels to sing his.

• ‘the baby, who was lying in the manger’—Jesus’ birth is a disorienting mixture of overwhelming majesty and humble simplicity. On the one hand there are angel choirs proclaiming universal peace; on the other hand, there’s a poor girl’s baby, lying in a feeding trough in a stable. It seems we can expect that this plan of God’s will keep us on our toes.

• ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’—this ceremony is to remember that God spared the Israelites when he brought a plague on the firstborn of Egypt during the exodus (Exodus 11, 13).

• ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’—they offer the birds because they are too poor to offer a lamb (Leviticus 12:8).

• ‘you may now dismiss your servant in peace’—by supernatural insight, Simeon recognizes the 8-day old Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Now that he has gotten a glimpse of God’s rescue plan put into effect, he can die happy. He needs nothing else from life.

• ‘prepared in the sight of all nations’ —Zechariah’s song yesterday focused on how the new David would fulfill Israel’s hopes for rescue. In Simeon’s song, we learn that Jesus’ arrival isn’t good news for the Jews alone. The whole world should pay attention, because Jesus has come for the non-Jews (that is, Gentiles) as well as the Jews. This expansion of the savior’s mission beyond Israel is something of a minor theme in the writings of the Jewish prophets; our old friend Isaiah, for instance, writes, ‘I will also make you a light for the Gentiles/that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6). But in Jesus’ ministry, and particularly in the way the non-Jewish Luke focuses the story, it becomes a very, very major theme.

• ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’—the savior brings a new brightness to the life of people who hear about him.

• ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’—while Jesus’ coming is good news for everyone, his mission is not easy. It will be a difficult thing for a mother to watch.

• ‘very old’—presumably over a hundred years old, since she was married ninety-one years ago. She has been on the lookout for God’s rescue for a long time.

• ‘Thinking he was in their company’—they were probably traveling with an entire caravan of people who had gone up to Jerusalem for the festival. It might be easy to assume that Jesus was amongst the other older boys in the group.

• ‘But they did not understand what he was saying to them’—his parents don’t quite seem to know what to do with all of the amazing things that happened around Jesus’ birth. Or, over the twelve years since his birth, they’ve forgotten that Jesus is God’s special agent of salvation, and begun to think of him as just their boy.

• ‘and was obedient to them’—the fact that he is the son of God does not lead Jesus to despise his earthly parents. He shows them honor, just like the Ten Commandments recommend (Exodus 20:12)

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Simeon and Anna are graceful examples of something that’s very hard to do: wait well. There’s a long gap for them between God’s promise and its fulfillment, and they live in that gap without bitterness and without giving up. They seem to draw closer to God and to hold more firmly to his promise as they wait. Is there something you are waiting for? How has your experience of waiting gone? What would it look like to wait well? Is there anything you need from God in order to help you wait? Consider using this period of uncomfortable waiting to draw nearer to God, even if it’s simply by telling him how it feels to wait.

For your friends: The shepherds were simply going about their business when the supernatural broke into their routine, in the form of an angelic choir. This supernatural interruption brought an extra dose of joy and of meaning to their night. Pray that the lives of your friends would be similarly seasoned with the supernatural. Ask God to speak to them in dreams, or to bring strange coincidences their way, or to answer a prayer when they’re not expecting it.

For our city: Simeon speaks in this passage about the savior’s arrival being good news for the entire world, not just for the little group who knew about him already. In Simeon’s day, the little group was the Jews; perhaps today that little group is church people. In New Haven county in particular, that little group is quite little: no more than seventeen percent of the population are regular churchgoers. While there’s plenty to pray about for the population who are in churches, today pray for the other more than eighty percent of our population who aren’t churchgoers. Pray that they would encounter Jesus in a way that brightens up their lives.