Good morning! Today’s birth stories of Jesus in Luke complement the stories from Matthew about a virgin birth, flight into Egypt and wise men traveling from afar. In Luke 2-3, we see this writer’s focus on ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and the beginning of Jesus’ adult life with his baptism by John in the Jordan River.
Luke’s birth story of Jesus highlights all the “little people” of faithful action, but he starts out by naming all the official, important people in power, situating this birth in political context. After narrating the birth of Jesus in a matter-of-fact way, Luke calls attention to nearby shepherds who are visited by angels (again, a characteristic of Luke). Shepherds had a smelly and non-glamorous job and they were generally kept out of towns for that reason, but they’re the first messengers of the new Messiah’s birth. (Have to wonder though, how they discovered the newborn Jesus with nothing more to go on than “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger”.) The baby’s mother Mary stores up what people are saying to her and Joseph about this child.
The next narrative about presentation of the new child at the temple takes pains to emphasize that this is according to the law of Moses, redeeming the child who would normally belong as “holy to the Lord”. The sacrifice they offer reveals their poverty, because a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons was what you offered if you couldn’t pay for anything better. When we hear of wizened old Simeon, the thing of greatest note is an emphasis of the Holy Spirit on him. His declaration of Jesus’ vocation (if you will) proclaims from the very beginning that he is for the Gentiles as well as for the people of Israel, Anna also was a prophet, and when she met the child, she began talking about him in her sermons about God’s rescue of Jerusalem.
Chapter 2 ends by emphasizing Jesus’ wisdom in the temple. This is the only story we have of him between birth and the start of his public ministry. We hear that he’s twelve, the age of adulthood, and what happens here emphasizes his ability to think and act for himself. The fact that it took his parents a day to miss Jesus among their family tells us something about the trust that families operated with back then, but another three days of searching for him in Jerusalem had led the parents into a frenzy. Mary speaks of her frustration and anxiety, while Jesus declares that of course he would be “in my Father’s house”. While he consents to joining them again, this is another experience that emphasizes his desire to differentiate himself from parents and start to be about the calling that Simeon has announced.
Chapter 3 focuses especially on John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus, but Luke again puts these activities in the context of imperial leadership. John feels the inspiration of the Holy Spirit most especially, and is identified as a prophet fulfilling the role identified by Isaiah (not Elijah here). John’s message to the people of Israel emphasizes urgency, repentance, commitment in obedience to God. When pressed, he offers common-sense advice about what this looks like in practice: sharing food and clothing, acting with honor and justice. Jesus participates in the baptism of John as well, and he experiences an indwelling of the Holy Spirit (again) in bodily form, as well as a promise from heaven that “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The chapter ends with a lengthy genealogy, similar to how Matthew’s gospel starts. What distinguishes Luke from Matthew is that this genealogy doesn’t include any women, and goes all the way back to Adam instead of Abraham. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 4-6. Thanks for reading!