Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2009
Psalm 96 (11)
Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus' presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. I am bringing you good news of great joy for | all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messi- | ah, the Lord. Alleluia. (Luke 2:10-11)
1a. Context: Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
To no other section of Scripture is the designation "sacred text" more
aptly applied. The passage 2:1-20 of St. Luke's Gospel is indeed sacred,
sacred in content and sacred in Christian tradition. One has to maintain
a steady gaze not to succumb to the many distractions introduced in
the course of history when the scene this Gospel presents is held
before it. [Ed. note: It is interesting, is it not, that for many years the old
Latin Mass generally concluded with a reading of the Prologue to John
designated as the “last Gospel.” Thus Roman Catholics were for centuries
exposed to this reading as an intrinsic part of all liturgy. This is a particularly
“catholic” approach to the centrality of the Word which is no doubt
unfamiliar to most Protestants.]
Our Gospel for this Christmas Day (theologically speaking, not only the
Nativity but the Incarnation of our Lord) is a portion of what New
Testament scholars term "pre-history," that is, events which serve
to introduce Luke's main story that begins with chapter 3. That story
is the account of the words and deeds of Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah.
Our Gospel is Luke's beautiful description of the long-awaited .Messiah's
Birth as he is expressly called in v. 11 by the angel.
Scholars have long debated the connection between chs. 1 and 2 with the
rest of Luke's Gospel. The chs. in question can indeed be omitted with no
damage to the intelligibility of the remainder of the account. On the other
hand, many and perhaps a majority of recent New Testament scholars
have concluded that the material in chs. 1 - 2, though perhaps composed
separately, is in harmony with the remainder of the Gospel and does much
to enhance it. (Which is stating the case mildly. Who can picture the
Church's witness to Jesus Christ without these chapters, especially 2:1-20!)
For the great majority of Luke's contemporaries, the birth of Jesus was an
episode that hardly deserved mention. For centuries ancient historians took
no notice. In startling contrast Luke views the birth of Jesus as taking
place "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). For him this "episode" is the
midpoint of all of history. Only from the standpoint of this "episode" does
Luke proceed to assemble the discreet happenings which lay before him into
a comprehensible whole, into history. That is why he connects the birth of
Jesus to world events. This is not due to what some suppose is Luke's bent as
a secular historian. In actuality, Luke's linkage is grounded in the conviction
that all events find their end and fulfillment in the history of Jesus
which alone is history in its deepest and fullest sense, that is, the deliberate
and intentional activity of God himself.
1b. TEXT: Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
The Birth of Jesus Christ
2:1 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.
The Shepherds and the Angels
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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this 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!” 
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.
 2:2 Or This was the registration before
 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married
 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men
1Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην. 2αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου. 3καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν. 4Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ, 5ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ. 6ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, 7καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον: καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι. 8Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν. 9καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν. 10καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ, 11ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ: 12καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ. 13καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων, 14Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. 15Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἀπῆλθον ἀπ' αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἱ ἄγγελοι, οἱ ποιμένες ἐλάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Διέλθωμεν δὴ ἕως Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἴδωμεν τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο τὸ γεγονὸς ὃ ὁ κύριος ἐγνώρισεν ἡμῖν. 16καὶ ἦλθαν σπεύσαντες καὶ ἀνεῦραν τήν τε Μαριὰμ καὶ τὸν Ἰωσὴφ καὶ τὸ βρέφος κείμενον ἐν τῇ φάτνῃ: 17ἰδόντες δὲ ἐγνώρισαν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ λαληθέντος αὐτοῖς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου τούτου. 18καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν περὶ τῶν λαληθέντων ὑπὸ τῶν ποιμένων πρὸς αὐτούς: 19ἡ δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς. 20καὶ ὑπέστρεψαν οἱ ποιμένες δοξάζοντες καὶ αἰνοῦντες τὸν θεὸν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἤκουσαν καὶ εἶδον καθὼς ἐλαλήθη πρὸς αὐτούς.
2. Analysis: Luke 2:1-20
Lk. 2:6 -- egeneto de en too einai autous ekei eplesthesan ai hemerai tou
Reference to the "days" having been "fulfilled" for Mary connotes more than
the normal course of the birth of a child. In the context of Luke's Gospel
time is always important. The implication is that centuries of hanging onto
the divine promise have ended. Something new is coming into the world in the
birth at Bethlehem.
Lk. 2:4 -- eis ten Ioudaian eis polin David etis kaleitai Bethleem.
That which is about to take place is a royal birth. The terms King and
Messiah were closely linked in Jewish tradition. In placing the birth of
Jesus in Bethlehem, Luke was once again pointing to him as the awaited Messiah.
Lk. 2:8 -- Kai poimenes esan en te xora.
Shepherds were far from the romantic characters in popular Christmas lore.
They were social misfits of dubious honesty, sinners in the eyes of the
Pharisees for not being able to observe the Law in all its detail. But , as
one commentator puts it, "God, the true Shepherd of Israel, intended his
message for all social classes."
Lk. 2: 9 -- kai cloxa kuriou perielampsen autous
The glory of God, who dwells in light unapproachable (1 Tim. 6:16), shone
round the shepherds at Christ's birth. That is to say , in the birth of Christ
the shepherds experienced the presence of God as that presence was of
old in the Temple.
Lk. 2:10 -- kai eipen autois ho aggelos, me phobeishe.
idou gar euaggelidzomai umin charan megalen etis esti panti to lao.
The time of fear has ended, the time of joy has begun. The angel brings
"good news," a verb that was used by or about the Roman emperor in announcing what he was for the people and what blessings he
brought them. Once again, Luke stresses the royal status of the one
who is born, his messianic character. The new messianic era of peace
Lk. 2:12 -- kai touto umin to semeion, euresete brephos . . .
"Both the shepherds and Mary were given signs . !Mary was given the
sign of Elizabeth's son; the shepherds were directed towards the newborn
child that was to signify the presence of the Lord among his people, as
Saviour and Messiah ." (Peter Coughlan & Peter Purdue, Commentary on the Sunday Lectionary, Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1969.)
Lk. 2:16 -- kai elthon speusantes . . .
This is how the poor and the outcasts respond to the offer of hope.
They come with haste.
Lk. 2:20 -- kai upestrepsan hoi poimenes doxadzontes kai ainountes
Divine interventions were often greeted in this way in the Old Testament
Luke obviously wishes this one to be met with no less reaction.
3. Strategy: Luke 2:1-20
From start to finish something is going on in the wondrous story of
the Birth of the Messiah that cries out to be named. And in the
reading that accompanies our Gospel it is named: "For the grace
of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all" (Titus 2:11).
Grace has appeared. About grace it might be said that you may not
know how to describe it but you know it when you see it. It is
undeserved kindness, goodness that is bestowed for no reason
other than for goodness' sake. It is not wrung from the benefactor,
is not done out of fear or favor, but wells naturally from a good
heart. Grace knows nothing of calculation or return.
It shines brightest when it is least expected or deserved.
It gathers luster when it is given at great cost of time, effort, or
money to the gracious person. We speak of graceful actions or movements.
Such is how the gesture of kindness, generosity, assistance appears. Such is the birth of Christ for us.
The Letter to Titus describes the birth of Christ as God's graceful
action on our behalf. St. Paul is more explicit: "For you know the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ , that though he was rich, yet for your
sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich"
(2 Corinthians )
A wonderful exchange you make;
You take our flesh and blood,
And in return give us to share,
The shining realm of God.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship , # 287, stanza 5)
"What can I say?" we say when overwhelmed by someone's love
and generosity. Humbled , we can only stammer banalities.
The spirit of this Liturgy is to b found in a joy that expresses
amazement at what God has done. (Coughlan & Purdue).
As this was written, war had begun in the region of the Persian Gulf.
I recall a Christmas card once that carried this unsentimental legend:
"Into this poor, demented world in which there was absolutely no room
for him at all, He comes." He did not have to. It was not deserved.
Yet it happened, and forevermore God and humankind are bound
together . For those who reach out with faith and take the gift, there
is joy amidst the madness, light in the darkness, hope instead of
despair. For the grace of God has appeared. Its lines can be traced
in every detail of he story of Jesus' birth. There is God at work.
But…says Martin Luther:
"This is the word of the prophet: 'Unto us a child is born, unto us a
son is given' (Is. 9:6). This is for us the hardest point, not so much
to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours. This is where we wilt, but he who does feel it has become another person. Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in him. And this Child belongs to all humankind. God feeds the whole world through a Babe nursing at Mary's breast. This must be our daily exercise: to be transformed into Christ, being nourished by this food. Then will the heart be suffused with all joy and will be strong and confident against every assault. "
Looked at in any way, our Gospel is full of grace, graceful and, if we are successful
in our preaching of it, grat-i-fying.
4. References: Luke 2:1-20
In addition to Peter Coughlan & Peter Purdue's book, Fr. Raymond
Brown's The Birth of the Messiah (Image Books, 1979) was consulted
again as was Karl Heinrich Rengstorff's old but still useful Das Evangelium nach Lukas, v. 3 of Das Neue Testament Deutsch (Gottingen, 1949).
Exegete: Rev. E. Richard Koenig
Pastor Koenig is a retired pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
He is a prolific writer, having writeen columns on Lutheran church life, theology< and ethics for many years in the Christian Century, Lutheran Partners (of which he was the first Editor when it was “LCA Partners”), inter alia. He and his wife, the author Elaine Koenig, live at Covenant Village of Cromwell, CT, where both are active in local and regional ministries.
5. Music Suggestions: Luke 2:1-20
The depth and breadth of Christmas music is so extensive that one can hardly
do it justice. The following are hymns and carols which ought to be used at some
point during Christmastide [ those marked ** are recommended as hymns
deserving wider usage than they already receive ] :
All Hail to You, O Blessed Morn ( LBW 73)
All praise to you eternal Lord (LBW 48)
Angels, from the Realms of Glory (ELW 275, HB 93; descant: HB 368)
Angels We Have Heard on High (ELW 289, HB 96)
**A Stable Lamp is Lighted (poem by Richard Wilbur), LBW 74, HB 104)
Away in A Manger (ELW 277/8, HB 101)
**Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light (HB 91)
Christians Awake,Salute the Happy Morn (HB 106)
**Cold December Flies Away (ELW 299)
Come Rejoicing, Praises Voicing (LBW 66)
From heaven above to earth I come (ELW 268, HB 80)
**From Shepherding of Stars (LBW 63)
**From East to West (LBW 64, HB 77)
Go Tell it On the Mountain (ELW 290, HB 99)
Good Christian Friends Rejoice (ELW 288, HB 107)
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (ELW 270, HB 87)
He Whom Shepherds Once Came Praising (LBW 68)
**In a lowly manger born (ELW 718, HB 417)
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (ELW 276, LBW 44)
In the Bleak Mid-Winter (poem by C. Rossetti), (ELW 294, HB 112)
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (ELW 282, HB 89/90)
Joy to the World (ELW 267, HB 100)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (ELW 490, HB 324)
Love Came Down at Christmas (HB 84)
O, Come All Ye Faithful (ELW 283, HB 83)
Of the Father's love begotten (ELW 295, HB 82)
O Little Town of Bethlehem (ELW 279, HB 78/9)
Once again my heart rejoices (LBW 46)
**Once in Royal David's City (ELW 269, HB 102)
**On this Day earth shall ring (HB 92; Personent Hodie)
O Savior of our Fallen Race (LBW 49, HB 85/6)
Rejoice, Rejoice this Happy Morn (LBW 43)
Silent Night (ELW 281, LBW 65, HB 111)
Sing, O sing, this blessed morn (HB 88)
The First Noel (ELW 300, LBW 56, HB 109 )
'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime (Native Am.,French; ELW 284, HB 114)
What Child is This? (ELW 296, HB 115)
When Christmas Morn is Dawning (LBW 59)
**Where is this Stupendous Stranger? (HB 491)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (HB 95,94: descant**)
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
HB: Hymnbook 1982 (Episcopal Church in America)
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
Lexegete © 2009
Dartmouth, MA 02747-1925