Meanings

Luke is writing about the true “savior of the world,” one from the line of the great King David.  He looks to Bethlehem, the city of David, and not to Rome, the city of Caesar

The birth is announced to shepherds in the field, and not to the powerful in rich palaces.  The scandal of the virgin birth is not so much that Mary was a virgin

The scandal was that Jesus–a poor kid from a backwater town–was born of a virgin.

The word savior  appears only three times in the synoptics–Luke 1, Luke 2, and John 4.  It was a politically-charged term since, after all, Caesar Augustus was known as “the savior of the world.”  He had brought peace to the world, the pax Augusta and in gratitude people celebrated his birthday and remembered the gift of peace received in and through him.  Jesus’ peace is not the same as the peace brought about by Caesar Augustus. It has more in common with the quality of life envisioned in the Hebrew word, shalom, (be whole, be complete). In Luke’s scriptures this word meant not merely the end of hostilities, but rather the well-being that comes from God

Luke’s announcement of Jesus as “savior” is a way of saying, “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.”  Moreover, this “savior” comes from the house of David.  He is not only “lord,” but “messiah.”

The theological significance, however,  is clear: the Messiah’s birth in a lowly manger brings peace throughout the earth. This is a direct challenge to the Augustan propaganda, praising the peace Augustus had brought to the Roman Empire, which was found throughout Roman literature (see Virgil’s Aeneid and Fourth Ecologue) and art (for example, the Augustus Primaporta and Ara Pacis Augustae, to say nothing of the Forum of Augustus), and was no doubt familiar to Luke’s authorial audience.

Throughout his gospel Luke tells the story of the work that helped earn for Jesus the title “Savior.”

– In a world where Samaritans were despised he showed Jesus telling stories in gratitude to God. In a society which treated women as second class citizens he showed Jesus welcoming them into his fellowship, along with the Twelve, and taking them with him on his travels through the cities and villages of Galilee.

– In a religious community that excluded sinners, he showed Jesus eating and drinking with them, telling stories accenting God’s care for them, and extending his hospitality and best wishes to them.

The Jesus of Luke’s gospel was one who broke through the barriers of nationalism, sexism, and religious chauvinism, who awakened repentance, set people free, who opened communities and brought in peace. Indeed, as Luke stated, he was One who had come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke19:10).

And the event at Bethlehem was the birth of this Christ; the birth of God’s agent for bringing a new form of salvation, a non-political, non-national salvation, to humankind. This was the good news of great joy, not only for Luke’s shepherds, but for his readers, past and present.

Another key concept is “joy,” or “rejoicing.” Commonly throughout the New Testament (and without exception in Luke’s Christmas story) joy is not so much a response to a happening that is significant in and of itself as it is an anticipatory reaction to a promise that shows signs of moving toward fulfillment. Joy is an eschatological reaching out occasioned by anything that brings the ultimate promise into ken. Similarly, Luke consistently uses “evangel” (gospel, good news) not as the proclamation of something that has taken place but as promise of something about to take place; the tense of the good news is future.

Through all this Luke tells us something very important about Christmas. The Yuletide activity appropriate for us  is not primarily that we “to the sessions of sweet silent thought … summon up remembrance of things past.” That remembrance is to be summoned not for itself but only that we may join the characters of Luke’s story in anticipatory joy of the ultimate promise, the fulfillment of which is yet to come and at the moment is still in process of coming.

Luke and the people of his story celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ because it was a promise of the future of Jesus Christ. And for us too the proper stance toward Christmas is not to look back toward Bethlehem but, with them, to look through the stable into the Kingdom of God.

To hear the angel’s message we must place ourselves in the shepherd’s situation. Will we be close enough, humble enough, and attuned enough to hear the infant cry of Jesus in the alleys of our town this Christmas? Where would be the “most unpretentious place” for the real Jesus to enter my city?

Here is the Great News of Christmas. In this birth account of Christ, the Messengers of God declared that through the birth of Christ, God and humanity would be united again. The other facet of this announcement is whom it was intended to reach. The angels declared; “Peace among men with whom He is pleased.” The term pleased  means “in whom God takes delight.”

We are now the ones sent to tell the world the good news:

So what is the Christmas message?

“Invite as many as you can to the wedding feast. The King has given us this great invitation in order to restore peace with all his people.”

 

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