Lukeby Mike Raiter
While some aspects of the Christmas story are quite remarkable, like the appearance of the angels, Luke’s account of these momentous events is rather mundane. What could be more matter-of-fact than descriptions of shepherds watching over their sheep, or of a child being born in a little Middle Eastern village?
So what happened on the first Christmas? Notice three things. First, Mary and Joseph have already been in Bethlehem for a while when Jesus was born (v. 6). He wasn’t born on the night they arrived, as is commonly implied in most nativity stories.
Second, the word translated as “inn” is better rendered as “guest room” (as in Luke 22:11, where the same Greek word is found). Remember, they have gone to Bethlehem because it is Joseph’s hometown. He would certainly have relatives there that he could turn to for accommodation. But by the time he arrived with Mary, “there was no room for them in the guest room” (v. 7)—probably all taken up by other returning relatives.
Third, there is no mention of a stable. Jesus was laid in a manger, which according to some biblical archaeology scholars is normally found within the confines of a village home. If this is true, then Jesus could have been born in a relative’s home, because it would have been unthinkable (especially in that culture) for Joseph’s family to refuse hospitality to a “brother” with a pregnant wife.
However, the important thing for Luke is not just where Jesus was born—be it a stable, cave, or house—but also who He is. Indeed, so ordinary and normal is the birth that the event would have disappeared into history, like so many other births, except that in the fields nearby, something extraordinary happens. Angels—God’s messengers—appear, and give this ordinary event a most extraordinary meaning: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah” (v. 11).
“Born to you. . .” say the angels. Not just to a few shepherds, or the residents of a remote Palestinian province, but to all of us. Today, let’s look past all the accumulated layers of tradition and see the glory and greatness of God’s gift, the One who is the Saviour of the world. Then let us follow the example of the shepherds who, having seen the Saviour, “spread the word” (v. 17).
Read verses 1–2. Why do you think Luke gives us the historical setting for the story of Jesus’ birth? What does this tell us about God’s control of human history?
Look at verses 17–18. The shepherds were the world’s first evangelists! What can we learn from them about sharing the gospel?