Today a Saviour is born. 2:1-7


Luke offsets the story of John's birth with the birth of Jesus. The gospel story begins with the birth of the one who will announce the coming of the Messiah, and then moves to the birth of the Messiah himself. In the birth of Jesus, we find the moment of messianic fulfillment, the moment when God's eternal plan comes to fruition.

The passage

v1. Luke plays the part of the historian and dates the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born during the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus - 27BC to 14AD. Augustus unified the empire, extending the power of government, and this included the implementation of an imperial census. The registration was most likely initiated by Herod the Great around 6BC while Palestine was still a vassal kingdom under Roman authority.

v2. Luke distinguishes this registration from the census initiated by Quirinius in 6AD while he was the governor of Syria. The NIV translation implies that the census referred to in v1 took place "while" he was governor, rather than "before".

v3-4. In a Roman census people were not normally forced to return to their place of birth to be registered. Egypt and Palestine seem to have been exceptions. Both Joseph and Mary are from the Bethlehem region and so return together. Jerusalem is normally spoken of as the "city of David", but Bethlehem is the town of David's origin and of messianic fulfilment, Mic.5:2.

v5. The implication is that Mary and Joseph are now married, although Luke describes them as "betrothed" (some manuscripts say "married"). Luke is probably aligning with the Matthean tradition (Matt.1:24-25) that, although Mary and Joseph lived together, they did not consummate the marriage till after the birth of Jesus. The perpetual virginity of Mary is not found in scripture. The term "first-born" in v7 indicates that other children were born to the family. Luke would have used the word "only born" if Jesus were the only child, cf. 7:12.

v6-7. A Palestinian public house would normally supply quarters for the poor, those who were priced out of standard accommodation during the peak season, eg., a census. Such accommodation would likely be adjacent to the stables. For the birth, Mary obviously moved out of the hut into the stable where the new-born Jesus is placed in an animal feeding trough. There is a strong tradition that the stable was a cave, and this is certainly not unknown. Caves make excellent stables. Although the scene is depicted in Christian tradition as one of simple beauty, it is actually a scene of humiliation. The humiliation of Jesus begins in a cave and ends on a cross.

Humbled for a season

A large lump of stuffing seemed to come out of the cushion all by itself. Little fingers love stuffing, in much the same way as they like to peel veneer off furniture. I was sitting on my grandmother's chair. It resided on the front verandah of her home at Sussex Inlet, a holiday hamlet South of Sydney. A wonderful chair it was too. You could actually put your feet into the holes and surround them with white fluffy cotton. It was a chair of unlimited comfort.

Reading was my game, and I was right into Tom Sawyer. Every now and then I would look up from my reading to inspect the action on the river. Beyond the spike-grass I could see the boats gliding by. My grandfather's boat was the fastest on the river, or so he claimed. It was powered by a twin cylinder Chapman, but by then it had seen better days. From my seat I could just see it's blue half cabin bobbing above the spike-grass. A boat of wondrous power, always smelling of bait and seaweed. The day passed slowly as Tom continued to get himself into unbelievable trouble.

My understanding was that the piano was to be tied on the back of a truck. You see it was Christmas Eve. I had spent all day reading and now I was going to help my grandmother with the Progress Association's carols by candlelight. I am not sure how they got the piano up on the truck, or what damage it suffered as we bounced along the dirt roads of the Inlet. Actually, I think the piano was past it anyway.

I was on the back of the second truck. This was an advantage, for I wasn't too close to my grandmother and her friends whose voices were far too shrill for my sensitive young ears. I surmised that it had taken a lifetime of training to perfect those shrill notes, particularly the warbles. The second truck carried the men and boys and evidenced far less enthusiastic singing. The men had other things on their mind.

We ended up at the camping grounds known as el-Alamein. This is were we gained our largest crowd of appreciative onlookers. My sense of importance increased greatly.

The singing was soon done, a bonfire lit, and the partying began. My grandfather had brought some of his homemade brew - large quart bottles with sprung loaded rubber sealed stoppers. I was fascinated by the way he would lose half of the contents when he broke the seal. "It puts hairs on your chest", he would always say. I was of the opinion that it was more likely to burn them off.

The fire burned down and the ambers cooled and we headed for home. Songs about a baby long ago. A family humiliated, their child with nowhere to lay its head, save an animal's feeding trough. The stars were bright, the night was dark and is there room, within my heart, for that child of long ago?

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