The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)

Again, this reading is taken from the USCCB’s NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition) and, if you’re paying close attention you might say “hey; you didn’t give us the whole pericope!”  True; The NABRE includes seven more verses than I’ve pasted here.  However some other bibles end the first pericope at verse seven, and I also prefer these texts for today’s reflection. I’ll give you the other seven verses tomorrow.


The Birth of Jesus.

1* In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus* that the whole world should be enrolled.

2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.

4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,a

5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.b

6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,

7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son.* She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.c

For today’s reflection the first thing I want to do is to extract what I consider to be particularly potent spiritual dimensions.  After we’ve examined the spiritual, we can look a little closer at the text itself and illuminate tiny literary and cultural dimensions.  Diving into the spiritual dimension helps us grow in relationship with Christ.  Examining the literary and cultural aspects helps learn how to read scripture.

Spiritual – Our God is born as an infant in our world.

Verse 7 says “she gave birth”.  How easy it might be for us to let it slide right by unnoticed that this is how our creator has chosen to come into the world.  This might not seem so startling; of course Jesus was a baby … right?  But think about it, any other story (fiction or from world religion) that depicts god meeting man has the deity coming in so powerful a form that there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, that “this is a god!”  That is, a typical god-meets-man story depicts the creator as inconceivably powerful and clearly not bound to the same natural laws that govern man. But our God has chosen to come into the world in complete vulnerability.  Our God, whom we depend on for everything came into this world as totally dependent Himself.  This is the pinnacle of humility and our God shows us what godly behavior truly is.  The mysteries of the Incarnation and the Nativity can easily be taken for granted, but these three little words “she gave birth” could occupy our prayer lives from now until we die.

Spend time in prayer pondering the Nativity of our Lord and ask for the grace to be in somewhat in touch with this mystery.

Spiritual – Making room for Christ in our lives.

Verse 7 says “there was no room for them in the inn.”  You can be sure that if anyone in the inn knew what was happening outside, then they would have made room for the Holy Family.  Heck, if I was the innkeeper and I knew what I what was going on, what I was missing, then I would have given them my room.  Any of us would have.  However, the greatest event the world has ever known (up to that time) was happening just a few feet away and right outside their walls.  To the people in the inn, It seemed to be nothing more than a commonplace everyday event for ordinary people who were in need and would just have to make do.

This begs the question: Do similar things happen in our lives?  Do we unknowingly fail to make room for Jesus because there’s no room in our packed lives? For me, the prayer response to this verse is to ask the Lord to make me attentive to those in need.

Literary – Why is Luke talking about a census?

When we look at what’s going on – the birth of Christ – we have to wonder why Luke is talking about the census.  Is he just setting the scene or is there something more?  If we think back to chapter one and Luke’s introduction we recall that he is writing his narrative so that Theophilus could “realize the certainty of the teachings” he has received.

In the ancient world, when a census was called, everyone had to return to the town of their birth.  That was really the best way to get an accurate count – everyone accounted for and no double counts.  Since Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census it provides proof for Theophilus that Joseph, and therefore Jesus, are from the house of David.

Note that the NABRE has a very good footnote which points out that Luke’s dating of the census is problematic.  In short, the history doesn’t quite work out.  Don’t let this throw you.  People will often come across something in scripture, for example science or history, which is somehow inaccurate. They will then think “gee, if it’s wrong about this then it can be wrong about anything.”  However, it’s often said, the Bible isn’t a history book, it’s a mystery book.  Through the prophet Isaiah God says it this way:

“Yet just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10,11)

God hasn’t sent his word to teach us the history of the world.  He sent it for our salvation.

Cultural – If Jesus was the firstborn son, does that mean that Mary and Joseph had more children?

Verse 6 says that “she gave birth to her firstborn son”.  What’s with that?  Does it mean that there was a second, or even a third?  No, that’s not the meaning of “firstborn”.  It’s best to think of this term more as a title rather than a counting system.  To be the “firstborn” son meant that the child would grow to inherit particular rights and responsibilities within the family.

For example, in ancient Israel you could have the following situation.  Suppose there are two brothers, James and John.  Further suppose James is married to Rachel and before ever having children James dies.  By law, his brother John had to marry James’ widow.  When John and Rachel subsequently conceive and have a baby boy, then that child will be known as James’ firstborn son (even if he is born many years after James’ death).  That’s the law and for the Israelites the law, not genetics, defines lineage.  (Check out Deuteronomy, Chapter 25, verses 5 & 6 to read it.)

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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