Birth of the SaviorLuke 2:1-20Theme: Paradoxes of the promise.This week’s lessons teach us that the good news of the Gospel is for everyone.
LessonBirthdays are very happy times. For that reason we generally try to remember the birthdays of close friends. With children you just cannot forget them because they will remind you. When we get older we are supposed to be too sophisticated to remind people about our birthday coming. But we are always pleased when they remember. Of all the birthdays that are remembered, however, there is probably no birthday that has been remembered more faithfully by more people over a longer period than the birthday of Jesus Christ.
That is significant, because it’s not merely Christian people who remember the birth of Christ. Christ’s birthday is also remembered by many non-Christian people. And there is even a kind of sentimental attachment to the Christmas story. When you turn on the television and see the Christmas specials, there is a lot that is easily forgettable. But sometimes there will be a little segment where they get serious and someone will talk about the birth of Jesus, or perhaps read a portion of the chapter from Luke’s Gospel that is to occupy our attention now.
What is there about the birth of Christ that so fixes itself upon the minds of our contemporaries and the people who went before us, and probably will continue to fix itself upon the minds of many people who come afterwards? Some would say, “Well, there is the sentimentality of the story.” Some would say, “Well, it has a religious theme, and people are interested in that.”
But I think there is more to it than that. The story is a magnificent one. It comes across to us in such a powerful way because of the extraordinary paradoxes that we find in the story. It is a story of great surety and beauty in the midst of content pertaining to an unwed mother about to give birth to a child. Normally it would be the kind of thing that people would joke about or perhaps make snide remarks about. And yet there is not a breath of that in this story. And there is an aura of holiness over all of it as Mary, who is with child by the Holy Spirit, says, “How can these things be?” And God explains them to her.
There is also the paradox that this is a story of joy in what could well have been a tragedy, because in Judaism at that time, to commit fornication and to have the evidence of it in the soon arrival of a child was a very bad thing. It was a crime. It was punishable in some instances by stoning. This is perhaps what Joseph was afraid of when he didn’t want to make Mary’s condition public but wanted to put her away privately. Yet God overshadows the story in such a way that even Mary, who is faced with the problem, rejoices in the Lord and goes off to see Elizabeth. They have that magnificent exchange between them where Elizabeth blesses Mary, and Mary breaks forth into that magnificent hymn that we know as the Magnificat.
Of all these paradoxes of the story, however, the one that is most apparent, and the one that comes across in the clearest way as we begin to read this great second chapter of Luke, is the fact that the King of Kings, the Lord of Glory, comes in humble circumstances and is presented to us here, in his first moments upon earth, in a manger.
His mother and Joseph have come to Bethlehem where he is to be born. It is a time when crowds fill the city; there is no place for them. They spend their time, not within the rooms of the inn, but in an outbuilding where the animals are housed. It is there in the most humble of all circumstances that the King of Glory is born. There is something about that that touches the heart and speaks eloquently of the humility of God, who would come down to our level and associate with us in that way.
This is the kind of paradox that didn’t escape the biblical writers of course, and it’s perfectly evident to Luke. As a matter of fact, he highlights it as he tells the story.
Why are even unbelievers attracted to the real Christmas story?
Name the paradoxes found in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
Further StudyRead about the visit Mary made to her cousin Elizabeth while she was pregnant with Jesus, and how Mary praised God while she was there (Luke 1:39-56).