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The Birth of Jesus
Dr. Arthur A. Just

1 And it came to pass in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the inhabited world should have itself registered. 2This registration happened before Quirinius governed Syria. 3And all journeyed to have themselves registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth into Judea, into the town of David that is, called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5to have himself registered with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being with child.

6And it came to pass while they were there the days of her giving birth were fulfilled, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him up with cloth bands and laid him in a manger, because there was for them no place in the inn.

8And there were shepherds in the same region staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9When an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were afraid with a great fear. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not fear, for behold I proclaim the Good News to you of a great joy that will be for all the people, 11 for there has been born for you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the town of David. 12And this will be for you the sign, you will find the baby wrapped up in cloth bands and lying in a manger. 13And suddenly it came to pass with the angel a great company of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,

14"Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace among men of his favor."

15And It came to pass when the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds repeatedly said to one another, "Let us go over then as far as Bethlehem and let us see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."

16So they went with haste and they discovered Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; 17and having seen them, they made known about the word that had been spoken to them about this child. 18And all who heard it marvelled at the words that had been told by the shepherds to them; 19but Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.

Textual Notes
1, 6, 13, and 15. X(X<gJ@ *g or 6"4 X(X<gJ@ introduce four significant sections of Luke's birth narrative of Jesus. Luke often begins a significant historic event in the life of Jesus with this phrase. The first one (2:1) sets the scene, the second (2:6) records the birth itself, the third (2:13) is the most dramatic, adding the word g>"\N<0H between 6"4 and X(X<gJ@ to introduce the announcement of the angels, and the fourth (2:15) introduces the recognition of the shepherds that the incarnation had taken place. Each one is translated "and it came to pass" even though this appears to be somewhat clumsy in 2:13. The story of the OT continues now in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

1. "B@(DVNgF2"4 - "Register" was for tax purposes but was not itself the moment of taxation. It was equivalent to a census. The significance of the census is emphasized by its repeated use in the first five verses ("B@(DVNgF2"4 - 2:1, 3,5; "B@(D"NZ - 2:2).

The relationship of this census to Roman policy and extrabiblical historical records poses some questions. Josephus (Antiquities 18.1 - 2 [18.1.1]) and other records, including Acts 5:37, confirm a census in A.D. 6, at which time Quirinius was governor of Syria. But Jesus was born under Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. Ordinarily a census was taken every fourteen years, but there is no other record of a census in Palestine in 8 B.C. or at any time during the reign of Herod the Great. It is not acceptable or necessary to say as L. T. Johnson does, "Luke simply has the facts wrong" (The Gospel of Luke, 49). (See also J. Fitzmyer, Luke I - IX, 400 - 5, and R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 412 - 18 and his appendix 7: "The Census under Quirinius," 547 - 56.) J. Nolland, Luke 1 - 9:20, 98 - 102, suggests that there are possi-ble explanations for the seeming discrepancies. Nolland suggests that the census in Luke might correspond to the pattern of census-taking at that time, and though the census in Luke 2 is not Quirinius' census, it is very likely an earlier, unrecorded census that is only cited here in Luke's gospel. Nolland offers the following helpful insights:

Luke's words may intend no more than to express simply the fact that the census in Palestine took place as part of a coordinated empire-wide policy of Augustus. Indeed there is no good reason for denying the possibility that reference to such a general policy formed part of the edict for each particular provincial registration (p. 99).

It would seem, then, that the greatest difficulty for the Lukan account is posed by the attempt to locate an earlier governorship of Quirinius in Syria during the final years of Herod's reign. Otherwise, despite the objections raised, Luke's account squares well with what is known from other sources of the Roman history of the period (p. 101).
See also W. Arndt, Lake, 76 - 80.

2. BDfJ0 . . . 0(g:@<gb@<J@H J0H GLD\"H 5LD0<\@L - One simple grammatical solution to the problem of the census in Luke is to understand BDfJ0 as adverbial and as governing this genitive participial phrase: "before Quirinius governed Syria." This is supported by the variant word order in .u* and D. Following this interpretation, this census in Luke 2 was the first, and Quirinius' census was a later one. (It is also possible to hear a comparative force in BDfJ0, in the sense of BD`JgD@H, which would be followed by a genitive of comparison.)

This solution was first suggested by M. J. Lagrange, "Où en est Ia question du recensement de Quirinius?" RB 8(1911) 60 - 84. J. Nolland, Luke 1 - 9:20, 101 - 2, supports Lagrange and offers these comments:

As a clarifying aside, such a statement would fit well. The governorship of Quirinius was an important turning point in Judean history, marking as it did the annexation of Judea, which was made profoundly visible by the census registration with which Quirinius' governorship began. That registration was 'the registration" (cf.Acts 5:37), and it is natural that Luke should distinguish from it a preliminary registration in the time of Herod the Great. On any reading, the Greek of Luke's sentence is awkward (cf. Fitzmyer, 400), and perhaps no more so on the reading suggested here. This seems better than forcing an earlier governorship on Quirinius and more likely than the contradiction in the Lukan infancy narratives created by an identification of the census here as that of A.D. 6.
This translation is also defended by N. Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament, 23 - 24. It results in a date of ca. 8 b.c. for the birth of Jesus.

4. %028Xg: - One wonders why Luke does not cite Micah 5:2 - 5 here, as Matthew does (2:6; cf. in 7:42 for a possible allusion). The Jews expected the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:4 - 5). "Bethlehem" means "house of bread." Luke will show throughout the narrative that Jesus comes to sit at table with his people and break bread and reveals himself for the first time as the crucified and risen Christ in the breaking of the bread (24:30 - 31, 35).

8. B@4:X<gH - The presence of shepherds reminds the hearer that David tended flocks in these same fields and recalls that God will send his "Good Shepherd" back to Bethlehem to tend the flocks of Israel. As the first to hear the Good News of the Christ's birth, the shepherds conform to Luke's theme of the Great Reversal, where God reveals himself to the least expected in lsrael.

10. P"D"< :g(V80< - See comments on 1:5 - 25.

gL"((g8\.@:"4 - This is translated "proclaim the Good News," to emphasize the announcement of the Gospel at the birth of Jesus. The Gospel is always something proclaimed or announced.

8"T - On this as a term for God's people, see comments at 1:10.

11. On FTJZD - See 1:47.

12. $DXN@H - The biblical usage of this term is important for human life issues. Since $DXN@H, "baby, infant," refers to babies both before and after birth, an unborn child is a fully human person. The word occurs eight times in the NT, including 2:16 below. See further the textual note on Lk 1:41.

14. g4DZ<0 - See 1:79.

gL*@64"H - The variant reading gL*@64" puts a nominative in place of the genitive. This is the basis of the K.JV, "peace, good will toward men." The RSV reads the genitive gL*@64"H, "peace among men with whom he is pleased," literally, "men of good will." Similar phrases are found in the LXX (1 Chron 16:10 [LXX]; LXX Pss 50:20 [MT 51:20; ET 51:18]; 88:18 [MT 89:18; ET 89:17]; 105:4 [MT and ET 106:41; Sirach 1:27; 2:16) and the Qumran literature, referring to those whom God favors. As B. Metzger points out, "the genitive case, which is the more difficult reading, is supported by the oldest representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups of witnesses." The genitive, although more difficult, has a sounder theological meaning. Again, Metzger notes: "The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Saviour God's peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure" (A Textual Commentary, 133).

15 and 17. J@ D0:" - "Thing" expresses the totality of what the angels and Mary experienced, i.e., word and event combined. Cf. the word and visible sign (06@LF"< 6"4 g4*@<) in 2:20. The shepherds believe that the word revealed to them "has happened" even before they see the fulfillment. Therefore their response is in faith, as was Mary's, in contrast to Zechariah's.

16. $DXN@H - "Baby, infant"; see textual notes on 2:12 above and on 1:41.

20. *@>V.@<JgH - This is the first time in Luke's gospel that someone "glorifies" God. This will be a frequent response to the many miracles of Jesus. Besides those who respond to Jesus' miracles, only one other person in Luke, the centurion, "was glorifying God" by saying, "In reality, this man was righteous" (23:47).

06@LF"< 6"4 g4*@< - Luke's word order shows the faithfulness of the shepherds' response. The word they "heard" from the angel was foremost, and they believed the word even without seeing the sign (2:15). When they "saw" the child, the sight confirmed the word, providing two witnesses, so to speak. The phrase occurs again (in the second person plural) in 7:22, but with the order reversed, referring to Jesus' miracles that the people "saw" and then his teaching, which they "heard."

As the hearer comes to the birth of Jesus, he is prepared to recognize some of the themes that will be associated with the incarnation. Luke tends to place the events of salvation history in the context of world history. In the birth narrative of Jesus, he orients the hearer to the historical circumstances surrounding the events now described. The words "in those days" (2:1; g< J"4H Z:XD"4H X<g4<"4H) hark back to his location of Zechariah's priesthood "in the days of Herod, King of Judea" (1:5). There Luke began by giving the Jewish time setting for Zechariah's priestly service in the temple. But for Jesus' birth, he gives the secular and universal setting during the reign of Caesar Augustus. By chapter 2, the hearer has historical bearings both within Judaism and Hellenism, and Luke will add to this historical setting as John the Baptist's ministry begins in Luke 3:1 - 2. Within the grand sweep of imperial Rome, the important figures and events that Luke records are not what a Gentile hearer might expect: a virgin with child, her faithful husband with the proper bloodlines, the unknown town of Nazareth, and the difficult journey to Bethlehem because of Caesar Augustus' census. And underneath all this history are theological themes about Jesus as someone quite different from what modem hearers too might expect.

Luke's composition of the birth story of Jesus is looser than some of the earlier passages in Luke 1, but he still provides a framework for each section and continues his use of circular patterns that center in a main thought. One is tempted to structure the passage around the four occurrences of X(X<gJ@ *g or 6"4 X(X<gJ@ ("and it came to pass"), but they will serve as either part of the frame (2:1, 6, 15) or as a climactic moment within the narrative (2:13). The following three sections parallel Luke's literary structure with the theological accents of his narrative:

Scene 1: The census and birth of Jesus (2: 1 - 7).

Scene 2: The shepherds hear the announcement of the angels and receive a sign (2:8 - 45).

Scene 3: The response of the shepherds, the people, and Mary (2:16 - 20).
The first scene sets the historical context for the birth of Jesus, which occurs in the final verse of this section. The section is framed by "and it came to pass" (2:1 and 2:6) and the use of "days" (g< J"4H Z:XD"4H X<g4<"4H/"4 Z:XD"4) in time designations for the census and the birth of the child. The Roman census that affected everyone in the empire is connected to the day of Jesus' birth. Here the theme of the Magnificat takes concrete shape in that the Creator of the universe, Jesus, is born in Bethlehem in a manger during a census decreed by the emperor of the world, Caesar Augustus. Indeed, the mighty are being pulled down from their thrones and the humble exalted. The hearer is struck by how simply Luke reports Jesus' birth; "And it came to pass while they were there the days of her giving birth were fulfilled, and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him up with cloth bands and laid him in a manger, because them was for them no place in the inn" (2:6).

The census is more important than it might appear. Luke does not include information about the census to portray his knowledge of Roman or Judean history, but to give historical reasons for Joseph going from Galilee to Bethlehem (about eighty-five to ninety miles by foot). By describing this movement from Galilee to Bethlehem, Luke shows both that OT prophecy is fulfilled (Micah 5:1 [MT; ET 5:2]) and that it is the Davidic lineage of Joseph that is the reason for the trip (g4H B`84< )"L4* . . . g> @46@L 6"4 B"JD4"H )"L4*, "to the city of David ... from the house and lineage of David" [Lk 2:4]). The hearer has been prepared for this announcement of Jesus' Davidic roots and for the careful movement to David's ancestral home of Bethlehem. David has already figured prominently in the infancy narrative (1:27, 32, 69). This is the birth of the Davidic king, and the kingdom promised in 2 Samuel 7 is now coming into existence with the birth of the Prince of Peace. Moreover, the association with the census of Caesar Augustus suggests that this descendent of David, with his royal bloodlines, is the Prince of all peoples, a universal King. The theme that dominates Luke - Acts is that salvation through Jesus is for everyone.

After the birth of Jesus is announced, the narrative moves smoothly to the angel's announcement to shepherds. This second, middle scene is the high point of the Luke's infancy narrative, Again, Luke uses a simple frame to introduce the shepherds (2:8 and 2: 15b) and the angel(s) (2:9 and 2: 15a), with an angel coming with the glory of the Lord that strikes great fear in the shepherds (2:9). The focus in this section is not on the shepherds but on the message of the angels. The frame sets up the two momentous statements by the angel(s). The first statement by the angel (2:10 - 12, introduced by g4Bg<, "said") contains three theologically laden statements. First, the angel preaches the Gospel of great eschatological joy for "all the people" (B"<J4 JT 8"T). God intends the birth of Jesus to be pure Gospel for all humanity. There is no greater source of joy than the incarnation of God's Son for the purpose of our salvation. This announcement is preceded by the imperative "Do not fear." For the faithful, the birth of the Christ brings an end to all fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). Unfortunately, some will choose to reject God's kingdom, and they will receive the news of Jesus' birth with fear (e.g., Herod). Thus Jesus' birth portends both Law and Gospel: the child will cause the fall of some, the resurrection of others (Lk 2:34), though God's will is for it to be received as Gospel joy.

Second, the angel announces the reason for the Good News and the great joy. The hearer already knows what this news is, but it was so modestly described in 2:7. The angels now bespeak the reality of what is now already a historical fact. It is as if heaven must confirm for the creation that the Creator has come as creature. "Today", (FZ:gD@<; cf. 4:21; 19:5; 23:43), in this country, a Savior, the Messiah, Yahweh, the King is born in King David's birth city of Bethlehem. From David, that shepherd boy, who shepherded his people as King and to whom was given the promise of an everlasting kingdom, a new Shepherd has come to shepherd his people Israel. "This is the heart of Luke's message: that Yahweh himself, the Good Shepherd, comes to seek out his sheep."1

When the angel announces that "today" (FZ:gD@<) a "Savior" (FfJ0D) is born, the hearer should note that this is significant Lukan vocabulary to announce the presence of the kingdom of God in the person and ministry of Jesus. Placing these two words together at this critical juncture in the narrative highlights their importance. The use of FZ:gD@< accents the angel's announcement that "today" salvation will come in the baby, a Savior, Christ the Lord. "This is the first occurrence of the adv. semeron, which will figure prominently in the rest of the Lucan Gospel (4:21; 5:26; 12:28; 13:32, 33; 19:5,9; 22:34, 61; 23:43). It often has the nuance of the inaugurated eschaton ... and is to be so understood proleptically here."2 In Lk 3:22, manuscript D and other important witnesses include Ps 2:7: "Thou art my beloved Son; today [shmeron] I have begotten thee," considered by some commentators to be the preferred reading.3 It sets Jesus' baptism apart as the beginning of his ministry of salvation. (Cf. Acts 13:32-33.) In Lk 4:21, Jesus announces that the messianic acts of salvation from Isaiah are now fulfilled "today" in their hearing, i.e., in his person and his activity as God's Anointed One. In 5:26, the people respond to the healing of the paralytic and the pronouncement by Jesus that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (5:24) by saying. "We have seen paradoxical things today" (FZ:gD@<). This suggests that in Jesus' healing and authority to forgive sins, the people have seen "the extraordinary character of the new dimension in human life that comes with Jesus' power and authority."4 This forgiveness is then demonstrated in Jesus' first Lukan meal with Levi the tax collector and sinner in 5:29 - 32. In 19:5 and 19:9, the presence of Jesus at the table of Zacchaeus means that today salvation has come to this house. In 23:43, Jesus announces to the thief on the cross "today [FZ:gD@<] you will be with me in paradise." The announcement that "today" paradise belongs to the penitent thief sums up Luke's use of FZ:gD@<, emphasizing the present reality of future eschatological blessings.

Third, the "sign" given to the shepherds is the baby in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Isaiah's sons, too, were "signs," (Is 8:18), particularly their prophetic names (Is 7:3; 8:3; 10:21 - 22), even though their appearance was ordinary. Isaiah prophesied the birth of another baby, whose name would also be prophetic (1s 7:14; 9:6 [MT 9:5]). A baby, ordinary cloth bands for wrapping, a manger - these are a profound statement about the character of Jesus' birth and its theological significance. Perhaps the Venerable Bede sums it up best:

He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities (Is 53:5). It should be carefully noted that the sign given of the saviour's birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped round with rough pieces of cloth: he is not to be found in an ornate golden bed, but in a manger. The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sakes took upon himself the clothing of the poor. Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (ef. 2 Cor 8:9); though he was Lord of heaven, he became a poor man on earth, to teach those who lived on earth that by poverty of spirit they might win the kingdom of heaven.5
Compared to the census, Caesar Augustus, and all of Rome's grandeur, this sign fairly shouts out the Great Reversal as the Lord of heaven descends to earth in such lowliness and humility. But that is exactly Luke's point in the infancy narrative! God proclaims his Good News through aged parents like Zechariah and Elizabeth and an unknown virgin: Mary. Her Magnificat rings out once more: the incarnation of God in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is God's ultimate reversal. The sign to the shepherds is that in the Christ Child, especially in his poverty and humility, God "has come to the aid of Israel his servant, to remember his mercy, just as he spoke to our fathers. to Abraham and his seed forever" (Lk 1:54 - 55).

The presence of the angel of the Lord conforms to the previous announcements in the infancy narrative (1: 11, 26), as does the fearful response of the shepherds (1:12, 29 - 30). What sets this announcement apart is the additional presence of the glory of the Lord, which will be the center of the angels' song (2:14) and Simeon's hymn (2:32). The glory of the Lord "is the splendor associated with God's perceptible presence (Exod 16:7, 10; 24:17; 40:34; Ps 63:3 [MT; ET 63:2]; Isa 60:1; etc.)."6

"Glory" is first used here in Luke's gospel and occurs at climactic moments in the course of his narrative (e.g., at 2:14 in the angelic song, cf. also the response of the shepherds in 2:20; 2:32 in Simeon's song; 9:26,31, and 32 within the context of the transfiguration; 19:38 at Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem; and 24:26 on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection). God's glory is a manifestation of his holiness and causes the angel to tell the shepherds "Do not fear" (:0 N@$g4F2g). This is the third time an angel has told someone not to fear in the infancy narrative (1:13, Zechariah; 1:30, Mary). The fear has been building. Luke's use of the cognate accusative with the verb in 2:9 has heightened it. For Zechariah and Mary, there was reason to fear the angel who represented the presence of God. But in both cases, God was present through the angels but not present for himself. Here, however, fear from the presence of God is a reality because Christ is born. The very *`>" "glory," is there, and so they were "afraid with a great fear." And yet for "all the people" of God (B"<J4 JT 8"T), the birth of God is the greatest news in the world and a reason for great joy.

The titles "Christ" and "the Lord" (PD4FJ@H 6bD4@H) stand side by side. (The variant reading PD4FJ@H 6LD\@L, "the Christ of the Lord," is to be rejected.) The titles stand in apposition. Jesus is 'The Christ," that is, "the Anointed One," and he is "Lord," that is, he bears the personal name of God from the OT', "Yahweh." Both titles are used together in Peter's Pentecost sermon as his final, climactic words: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). Jesus is Christ the Lord at his birth. In Luke's gospel, "Lord" has already been used of Jesus (1:17,43, 76). But this is the first use of "Christ." Until his Jerusalem ministry and trials, the only humans to recognize that Jesus is the Christ are Simeon (2:26) and Peter (9:20). Otherwise, it is used by the people wondering about John the Baptist (3:15), and the demons recognized Jesus as the Christ (4:41). Jesus uses it with scribes in his discussion with them during his Jerusalem ministry (20:41). During his trials, it is used by his enemies (22:67; 23:2, 35, 39). After the resurrection, Jesus uses it twice in passion statements to affirm both his person and his work (24:26, 46).7

Both Zechariah and Mary received a "sign" (J@ F0:g4@<) from the angel. For Zechariah, the sign conformed to OT usage to assuage his doubt. For Mary, it was a sign that testified to God's miraculous working in the life of Elizabeth, not to help her doubts but to declare the presence of God in the child within her. But what exactly is the sign given to the shepherds? Very simply, it is the child in swaddling clothes in the manger. This sign leads them to Jesus, the Incarnate One, the real presence of God.8

Luke will frame his gospel with reference to Jesus' clothes, beginning with the strips of cloth for the infant Jesus as a sign of the Messiah's birth and concluding with his dead body wrapped in a shroud at his burial (23:53), which will be "the linen clothes alone" discovered by Peter as a sign of the Messiah's resurrection (24:12). By this frame, Luke connects Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection.

The second statement from the angel is accompanied by a choir of the great company of the heavenly army (2:13 - 15). Luke sets this hymn apart with 6"4 g>"4N<0H g(X<gJ@, "and suddenly it came to pass". The two lines are parallel, but the first regards heaven, and the second describes earth. Gloria in Excelsis is the great hymn of the incarnation that states, in the liturgical language of the heavens, the earthly consequences of Jesus' birth. In heaven, the result is glory to God; on earth, Jesus' birth brings peace to those upon whom God's favor rests. "Peace" parallels "glory" and shows how heavenly glory is manifested to those on earth who are favored by God. In the birth of Jesus, God's glory is manifested on earth as peace between God and humanity.

God intends Jesus birth to be Gospel for all humanity (see comments on 2:10 - 11); unfortunately, many will reject him (also 2:34-35), and so peace will not come to all, only to those who receive the news of the child's birth in faith. These are the "men of his favor," those on whom God's favor rests. Luke will shortly provide another example of those who receive God's favor and are granted peace through the child: Simeon departs in "peace" (2:29), recognizing that the child brings heavenly "glory" to God's people Israel (2:32).

In the angels' acclamation, the sign of humility receives a response of heavenly glory. God's order is sure: the Christ must suffer and only then enter into his glory (24:26). The Gloria in Excelsis foreshadows the entrance hymn of the people when Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem for his death. The parallels here are striking, especially in view of Luke's version of the entrance hymn:9

2:14: "Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace among men of his favor."

19:38: "Blessed the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord! In heaven peace, and glory in the highest!"
At the birth of Jesus, there is glory in the highest; this same highest glory is proclaimed as he enters Jerusalem for his death. At his birth, Jesus brings peace on earth. He enters Jerusalem to accomplish what is necessary for peace in heaven, because atonement will be made for the sins of the people. In the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth, heaven and earth are joined together in peace. Peace is something the people of Jerusalem did not recognize when Jesus entered the holy city (19:42), for it was hidden from their eyes since they did not know the time of their visitation (19:44 - J0H gB4F6@B0H F@L; cf. gBgF6XR "J@ in 1:68). But at this moment of Christ's birth, the great hymn of the angels announces to the shepherds that God has visited his people in the Christ Child: glory to God in the highest, peace on earth. And the shepherds believe it.10

Rather than beginning a new section with 2:15, it is better to read it as the conclusion to the announcement to the shepherds, providing a frame around the reference to the shepherds in 2:8 and 2:15. If it is placed at the end of the second section of the birth narrative, it anticipates the themes of Luke's third and final scene of Jesus' birth. As the angels depart to heaven (accented by 6"4 g(X<gJ@, "and it came to pass"), the shepherds immediately respond to their words by speaking to one another in the second great act of faith in the infancy narrative. (The first is that of Mary in 1:38.) They speak repeatedly and continually (2:15; g8V8@L<, imperfect). 11

What they say to one another is this: "Let us go over then as far as Bethlehem and let us see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known [g(<fD4Fg<] to us" (2:15). To "make known" is an important Lukan word. It refers to divine revelation that is solely by grace and is received in faith; so does the similar word in 2:26 (6gPD0:"J4F:X<@<, "had been revealed"). Here what is "made known" is "the word/thing" (J@ D0L"), and in view of this revelation, the shepherds may now convey this revelation to others. First God speaks and offers his gifts in the Christ Child; then the shepherds respond in faith by proclaiming what God has first spoken to them. "The thing" (J@ D0L") that has happened is perceived by the shepherds as revelation (g(<fD4Fg< - repeated in 2:17), and they are compelled to go to Bethlehem to see this revelation in the flesh.

The third scene of the Christmas Gospel is the response to the birth of the Christ Child. (Luke uses a similar structure of response in the birth and circumcision of John, 1:57 - 66.) The shepherds form the frame of the response. First they come and find Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, confirmation of the sign given to them by the angel (2:16). Then they return to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen just "as it had been told [g8"8Z20] to them" (2:20). This final statement by the evangelist unlocks the key to this scene. What dominates this section is the speaking about the great news (8"8XT: 2:15, 17, 18, 20 and J@ D0L": 2:15, 17, 19) and the revelation to the shepherds (g(<fD4Fg<: 2:15, 17).

Now that Christ is born, the rest of the Christmas story is about the proclamation of the Good News of his birth and the three different reactions to that Good News.

First, the shepherds receive confirmation with their eyes of the sign that was made known to them through the word spoken to them concerning the child. Second, those who heard the story of the shepherds about the angelic declaration respond in amazement.12 Third, Mary treasures these things, pondering them in her heart. The antecedent of "these things (insert) are the words that the shepherds rehearsed for Mary concerning the appearance of the angels and the content of the angels' message. In essence, what Mary treasured in her heart was that the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, was the God-given sign of the Christ, whose birth signals glory in heaven and peace on earth. Although it is possible that Mary did not fully understand this at the time, in view of her faithful response to the angel who had visited her, it is likely that she received these words with joy and perceived their meaning.

All three responses are responses of faith, and the ultimate response to such words and revelation is faith that worships God in glory and praise (2:20). The Christmas Gospel generates the telling of the Good News, evokes faith, and creates worship of the Christ Child, who is himself the presence of God, the Word made flesh. This same pattern - divine gifts revealed, evoking human response - characterizes worship according to the Divine Service.

1. J. McHugh. The Mother of Jesus, 97. He argues on pp. 93-98 for the shepherd imagery in Lk 2:1-20 based on Micah 4:6-10.

2. J. Fitzmyer, Luke I - IX, 409. Cf. A. A. Just Jr., The Ongoing Feast, 189-90, where this argument is first offered.

3. J. Fitzmyer, Luke I - IX. 485: "They [Grundmann, Harnack, Klostermann, Leaney, W. Manson, Moffatt, Streeter, Zahn] retain it on the principle of lectio difficilior thinking that it was eliminated by copyists who harmonized the Lucan text with that of Mark 1:11 or Matt 3:17 or eliminated it for other (doctrinal) reasons."

4. J. Fitzmyer, Luke I - IX, 586.

5. The Venerable Bede as translated by J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus. 89, from In Lucam I, (Corpus Christianorurn: Series Latina 120.51-2). L. T. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 53, notes a possible allusion here to the death of Jesus: "Can the threefold, deliberate phrasing in the Greek of, 'wrapped him in cloth strip, placed him in a manger, because there was no place' perhaps anticipate the same threefold rhythm of 'wrapped him in linen cloth, placed him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had yet been laid' (23:53) so that birth and burial mirror each other?"

6. J. Nolland, Luke 1 - 9, 106.

7. J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus, 92, notes that Lk 2:11 "is astonishingly close to the terms in which the birth of a royal prince was officially announced in the courts of the Hellenistic world. ... and the birth of Jesus is presented as the birth of a prince who was to inherit Augustus' world."

8. J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus, 88-89, describes the difference between OT signs and NT signs, quoting also L. Legrand, "L'Evangile aux bergers. Essai sur le genre littéraire de Luc 2:8-20," RB 75 (1968) 170-71:
In the New Testament, "signs" are a distinctive characteristic of the mission of the apostles, as the summaries in Acts stress (Ac 2:43; 4:33, cf. v. 30; 5:12, 15-16; 8:6-8, 13; 14:3). These signs of the mission of the apostles are ... given spontaneously. ... [Legrand:] "From this time onwards, they are not so much phenomena intended to guarantee a promise about the future as the spontaneous irruption of a new reality within history - what the Synoptics term the Kingdom, or what Luke, from his own particular angle, calls the Spirit. The function of these signs is no longer to stimulate confidence in a promise, but to support the appeal to conversion which the gospel contains. Accordingly, their value henceforth depends less on their 'surprising' character than on their ability to condense the gospel-message (de leur densité kerygmatique), on their power to 'pierce the heart' (Ac 2:37). It is no longer, then, a question of things unheard of being performed, but of putting across the message of conversion. And in this sense, the most effective sign is the sign of the cross (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22-5)" [end of quote from Legrand; emphasis added], So, in Lk 2:34, Jesus is "a sign that will be contradicted". So also the infant lying in a manger is a sign - not an extraordinary or miraculous sign, but a sign "to pierce the heart" - already preaching in the humility of his birth the lesson he would preach on Calvary. The rnanger is the mirror of the cross the res et sacramentum of the gospel.

9. See comments on Lk 19:38.

10. Ro God's glory on earth, see Num. 14:21 and Is 6:3

11. 8"8XT appears often in the ensuing verses: the shepherds reflect on the word that was spoken to them (2:17) 8"802X<JgH, aorist passive participle); then the people are amazed at what was spoken to them by the shepherds (2:18, 8"802X<JT<, aorist passive participle); finally the shepherds return home glorifying and praising God concerning the things they heard and saw because those things corresponded to what the angels said to them (2:20, g8"8020, aorist passive).

12. This is the third of four responses of amazement (g2"b:"F"<) in the infancy narrative (1:21, 63; 2:18, 33). The first two responses of amazement result from events that are out of the ordinary: in 1:21 the people are wondering why Zechariah delays in coming out of the Holy Place, and in 1:63 John's neighbors and friends are amazed that Zechariah confirms that John's name should be John. In both there is an intermingling of doubt and faith. But the fact that this response to Jesus' birth (2:18) is situated between the faithful response of the shepherds and that of Mary suggests that it is faithful amazement with holy wonder.

Chapter excerpted from the Concordia Commentary on Luke 1:1-9:50 by Dr. Arthur A. Just. Used by permission of Concordia Publishing House. This material is not to be electronically transferred. Down-load for personal use only. You can purchase the two-volume Concordia Commentary on Luke for a total of $75 by calling the Issues, Etc. Resource Line at 1-800-737-0172.

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