Published December 2, 2010
Luke 2:8-20, 33-35
Bible Studies for Life, Dec 19
Events in the life of royalty are often public spectacles that draw worldwide attention. When Prince Charles married Lady Diana on July 29, 1981, over 750 million people from around the world watched the event. The birth of their first child, an heir to the British throne, was well-covered by the media. The birth of the future monarch was not only a public event, but gifts from governments and the public were given to the royal family.
The birth of a king is usually celebrated by his subjects and comes with international recognition. Neighboring kingdoms and allies send delegates with gifts to congratulate the royal family. However, the regal splendor normally associated with the birth of a king is noticeably absent from Luke’s account of the Nativity. Far from palaces and royal courts, Jesus was born under the most humble of circumstances.
Surrounded by fields suitable for grazing, Bethlehem was an important area for shepherds. Though important to both trade and the operation of the Temple, “shepherd” was not a respected profession. Shepherds performed a necessary profession, but were also considered dishonest and ceremonially unclean according to the Law.
Shepherds would often intermingle their flocks at night for increased protection as well as companionship. In the midst of their nightly duties of watching over their flocks, a group of shepherds was surprised by the sight of an angel.
While we often associate angels as pleasant messengers of good news, that is not always the picture painted from the Old Testament. Angels are also the warriors of God and often delivered His judgment on people and nations (Gen. 19; Num. 22; 2 Sam. 24; 2 Kings 19). The sight of an angel would have been an overwhelming and fearful sight.
These men were terrified by his appearance and probably worried about divine judgment upon their lives. However, the angel quickly reassured them with a message of grace – a message of salvation for them and the nations. A Savior had been born for them in Bethlehem. This was a personal message that God had provided salvation for them.
Though the message had worldwide implications, it began with a group of working men out in the field in need of a Savior. Immediately they left their flocks to find the child of promise. Good shepherds would never jeopardize their flocks and would even defend their flocks with their lives, but the angelic announcement was the greatest news that they had ever heard. They had to find the Savior that had been born that night.
The shepherds found Jesus just as the angel had described. They were quick to tell everyone what they had seen. These lowly shepherds had received a divine decree regarding the child in a manger. The surroundings were meager – the stable of an inn – but the shepherds had been promised that this child would change the world, their world, forever.
Though He was only an infant, these men had encountered their God and Savior. They could not keep silent about the Good News that they had witnessed.
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, time necessary for the circumcision of Jesus and purification rites of Mary to be completed (Lev. 12:3-4), Joseph and Mary brought their child to Jerusalem. Upon coming to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary offered up the sacrifice required by the Law for the firstborn. The Law declared that the firstborn belonged to God (Ex. 13:2) and a sacrifice was required for every child born.
Joseph and Mary acted in total compliance of both the letter and intent of the Law. Ideally a lamb was to be offered as a sacrifice, but Luke notes that they offered two turtledoves or pigeons. Lambs were expensive and the Law allowed the poor to offer two turtledoves or pigeons instead of a lamb.
In the midst of performing their duties to God, Joseph and Mary encountered a man named Simeon. Simeon was a godly man of great faith who earnestly longed for the arrival of the Messiah. God was with him and had assured him that he would see the Messiah within his lifetime. That day as Jesus was brought to the Temple; the Holy Spirit guided Simeon to him and revealed the identity of the infant to Simeon.
Simeon immediately knew that Mary held the long-awaited Savior and immediately offered up a prayer of thanksgiving. Though it was a wonderful moment as Simeon’s lifelong dream was realized, he also offered a stark prophecy regarding Jesus.
Jesus was the salvation that Israel longed for, but He would also bring strife and conflict. Many would violently reject Him and the turmoil would pierce Mary’s own heart. Jesus would bring salvation to the nations, but would be rejected by many, including his own people.
Jesus is the ultimate King of Creation, but He came as a child into the most humble of circumstances. Instead of the royal welcome He deserved, angels revealed the truth of His arrival to poor outcasts who were in need of a Savior. These men responded to the Good News by finding the newborn Messiah and proclaiming the miracle of salvation that they had received.
Jesus is our high priest, but when He was presented at the Temple the religious leaders of His day did not notice His presence. Instead a faithful man was led by the Holy Spirit to the long-awaited Savior of Israel. Simeon celebrated the salvation that had finally come, but also warned of the conflict that would also follow.
The tiny baby would grow into a Savior that would be rejected by many. We have a fuller knowledge of Christ than the shepherds and Simeon. We also have an opportunity to announce that a Savior has arrived.
There will be people who are hostile to that message, but the Good News of Jesus Christ is worth celebrating and proclaiming all year long.
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