Merry Christmas (in August)!
Today we read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of important stuff. The chapter begins:
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.
First, notice that Luke is taking pains to set the time of Jesus birth in history. In other words, he making sure we understand that this is a recent historical event. The passage also creates a wonderful and powerful juxtaposition. The world’s most powerful man Caesar Augustus commands that the entire world should be registered and it is. His command reverberates down to the lowest of the low. And who is that lowest person? A child born to parents for whom there is no room at the inn, he is born in a manger. We who know the story know that the child is the true king.
Also, note that the child is wrapped in swaddling cloths. This is a foreshadowing of how his great mission of salvation will be accomplished. It will be done when he is wrapped in burial cloths.
The juxtaposition between the great Caesar and the child is intentionally done by Luke and made more pronounced when Luke recounts the Angel delivering the good news to some shepherds.
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, …
Besides being the high point in the best Christmas special of all time (A Charlie Brown Christmas) this verse also has something hidden in it which we tend to miss because of the traditional translation. We think of the “multitude” of angels that appear to be a choir of angels singing praise to God. That image is correct and useful but the word used in the original is a “strategum” of Angels. From which we get the word ‘strategy’. Thus, this does not just imply a large number of singing Angels but rather an army of solider Angels. This is not just a baby born in a manger, He’s a king and He has an army.
The shepherds go to find the child and when they do they share what they saw with Joseph and Mary.
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.
Verse 19 is a key verse. There are really only one way Luke could have known that information and that is if Mary herself told him. That makes sense because we know that after the Resurrection Mary lived in Ephesus and we know that Luke was that traveling companion of Paul, who traveled to Ephesus. Thus it is probable that Luke had met Mary. Thus, it means that all the information in Luke about the early life of Jesus comes directly from Mary herself. This is something we cannot be absolutely certain of but it seems probable.
After forty days Mary and Joseph go up to the temple to make the required offerings for purification. Their they meet Simeon, a man to whom the Holy Spirit has promised he will not die until he sees the messiah. Simeon immediately recognizes the child Jesus as the messiah. He says:
And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Two points to be made here. Simeon immediately tells them that Jesus will be a “light to the gentiles”. Thus, we see from the outset that Jesus mission will be to the whole world.
Second, notice what Simeon says about Mary’s relationship to Jesus mission. Jesus will cause the rising and fall of many. In other words those in charge – the Sanhedrin and temple priests – will fall, while others – simple fisherman like Peter – will be raised up. Then Simeon says Jesus will be opposed. We know that. Finally, he says that “the thoughts from many hearts” will be revealed – this is a Jewish idiom for God who is “the one that searches thoughts and hearts”. But Simeon does not say that it is Jesus alone who these things will happen to, he says of Mary “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (also translated as “and also thine own soul shall a sword pass through”). Now, importantly Simeon says this before making the reference to Jesus as God, clearly keeping that reference separate from Mary. However, he connects it directly to that fact that Jesus will be opposed. This implies that Mary will also be opposed and that her suffering – “a sword piercing her soul” – will be connected to Jesus’.
This matches exactly with what we have been looking at the last few weeks. Jesus invites us to suffer with him. To join our suffering to his for the redemption of the world. We are His adopted brothers and sisters and therefore Mary is our adopted mother. As the sinless virgin mother of God here suffering was greatest of all persons. But she does not suffer only the death of her holy Son as we are her adopted children she shares in all our suffering. She knows it. As the new Eve she is sensitive to it as every mother is to her children’s suffering. Again, it was the Holy Spirit who put the words on Mary’s lips, “every generation will call me blessed”. As the new Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, the first disciple, the sinless mother of God, and our Blessed Mother let us always keep these words of the Holy Spirit in mind when we contemplate her role in salvation history.