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Luke 2: The Birth of Jesus
One of the great chapters of the Bible.

Why is this chapter called great? In a stately, artful fashion Luke locates the humble birth of Jesus in the midst of the mighty Roman Empire. People have been captivated by the vivid telling of the Christmas story: Jesus being born among the animals, the chorus of angels singing to the shepherds in a remote field and the shepherds kneeling at the manger.

A key verse
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. (2:1, NRSV)

There is something striking and somber, about the way this story begins. A powerful, feared, revered leader, at the center of the most powerful empire in the world issues a sweeping decree. We see how this sets in motion the most humble of people. But those humble people are about a purpose that will dwarf the might of the Empire itself.

The story told in this chapter can be thought of has having four episodes:

Episode 1: verses 1-7, The Birth of Jesus

Episode 2: verses 8-21, The Shepherds

Episode 3: verses 22-38, Simeon and Anna prophesy about Jesus

Episode 4: verses 39-52, Jesus Grows Up

If you liked this chapter
Luke 1 provides the background for the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. It tells of the angles appearing to Mary and Zacariah (John the Baptistís father), the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth (Johnís mother) and the birth of John the Baptist. It also foretells what Jesus will do and who he is.

Matthew 1 (starting at verse 18) and Matthew 2. When you read Luke, did you wonder where was the "star in the east", the wise men, or the flight to Egypt of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus? Those stories are in Matthewís gospel.

What about the other gospels, Mark and John? Interestingly, they donít tell explicitly about the birth of Jesus. They do have striking ways of beginning their stories about Jesus. Itís a good study to compare all four.

Summing up

Here are some questions that you might want to think about or discuss:

The Christmas story is a familiar one to us. But did you find your self noticing things you hadnít noticed before? Was there something you always thought about Christmas that you now have to change based on reading Luke?
If one of the things that Luke is trying to do is to have you think of Jesus in connection with the larger context of the government, then it can be interesting to try to "retell" the story in todayís context. How would you translate this story into the time of today? Would you have presidents and congress involved? Where would you have Mary and Joseph on the night she gave birth? Who would the shepherds be?

Last updated 4/29/03; posted 12/11/00; © 2003 John P. Nordin