Luke 2:1-38 “The Humble Lord of a Humble People”
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into 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 wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “ Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by 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 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Introduction: There is so much associated with the celebration of Christmas in modern America, that sometimes we get lost in all the junk. And there is a lot of junk, to the point where some Christians choose not to even celebrate Christmas. There are even elders of our church who hold to that view, and while I respect their views, there are some elements of truth that shine even through the glitter that has been added to a celebration of the birth of Christ. I cannot possibly teach all of the elements of the birth of Jesus Christ that we find in this passage, but I would like to focus in on the humility of the birth of Christ, and the humility of those he came to save.
It’s interesting that this passage begins with mentioning the most important people of that time and place, most especially, Caesar Augustus. His name was probably Octavian, but he was known as Caesar Augustus, or the Great Leader. And, he had the power to impose his will on, as the passage says, “all the world.” Perhaps not the whole world, but, he was so great, that the phrase is used to describe the extent of his reign. And indeed, his orders from far away were so powerful, that he could command people to go to their native villages, and they went.
We read then of Joseph and Mary going up to the city of David, Bethlehem. At first, this too seems impressive, because David was the greatest king of Israel. But Bethlehem was not his capital, but it was his home as a shepherd boy, before he became a king. When Samuel came to anoint the new king of Israel [1 Samuel 16], he came to the unimportant village of Bethlehem, and he was told to choose the youngest and least important son of Jesse to be the new king. And so, it was to this little town that Mary and Joseph came that Jesus might be born there. It really was, as the Christmas carol says, the “Little Town of Bethlehem.”
The next indication of the humble birth of the Savior is verse 7, where we read that when Jesus Christ was born, they “laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Of all of the elements of his birth, this best illustrates that Christ Jesus was born in the most humble possible way. Surely if the mother and step-father of Jesus were important people or if they had sufficient financial resources, room would have been found for them, if not in the inn, then in someone’s home. But they were not important people, and so, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, came to be born in a manger.
In English, we hardly ever use the word “manger”, in fact, almost always, we associate it with the birth of Jesus. But at least in this case, the Christmas portrayals are often more or less correct. It was a trough or box, where food was put for the animals to eat. Jesus was not even born in a proper house or tent, but, in a barn, where animals were fed. Even for an ordinary human, this would be among the least appropriate places, one the least desirable places, to be born. And it was here that our Savior was laid when he was born.
Why? Why is it important that Jesus was born in such a humble town, in such a humble place? When the wise men came from the east, they went to the capital city of Jerusalem, the other city of David. They came to the palace of the king, to search for the newborn king, and such would be the expectation of this world. In fact, the world would not even have chosen Israel, but Rome, to be the birthplace of the world’s savior, and he would have been the son of someone like Caesar Augustus. But Jesus did not come to be a king like the earthly kings, coming in glory and honor. We read in Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” You see, if Jesus was to be the one who would die for our sins on the cross, he had to humble himself. He was in the form of God, and had existed from all eternity. He could have remained God and nothing more, but he chose to humble himself, that is, to take on human flesh and become a real man, that he might die on the cross for our sins. And, he did not just look like a man, he was man, and he humbled himself in every way, as this passage says, he made himself of no reputation. It would not have been appropriate for him to be born in a palace, for in doing so, he would have taken on the pretense of being more than just a man. As it was, he humbled himself in every way, as the passage says, he took upon himself the form of a servant.
The humility of his birth is confirmed by the announcement. It is again a contrast of the glory of the Lord and his humility, for the announcement is made by an angel as the glory of the Lord surrounds them. And yet, the announcement is not made to the high-ranking nobles of the city of Jerusalem, or the senate of Rome. It is made to shepherds. These were poor men, who spent the night not in the comfort of their homes with their families, but watching over their flocks by night. It is to these men that the announcement is made ““Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” [vss. 10-12] Here again, we see the glory of the Lord, for he is called the Savior and Lord. And, here again, we see his humility, for they are told that it is a sign that they will find the baby Jesus lying in manger.
But there is more in the passage that speaks of his humility. We read that Mary and Joseph, brought him to be circumcised, in fulfillment of the law. They called him Jesus, which is to say, Savior. They brought him to the temple, and they brought an offering, in completion of the law. But wait—look at the passage that this refers to, in Leviticus 12. We read in verses 6 and 8, “When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. . . ‘And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” The mother is to bring a lamb, but, if she cannot bring a lamb, she may bring a turtledove or a pigeon, animals which could be caught in the wild. The point is that in Luke, Mary brings a bird as an offering, because she is poor and humble, not a person of resources or wealth, as is appropriate for the humble mother of our Lord.
And then finally in this passage, we come to the old people. A lot of times, we discard old people, we say they are past their prime. Sometimes, they are even left to die, for they are considered useless and old.
We come first to Simeon. We read of him that he was “just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Yes, he was old, but he lived a life of hope, a life of waiting for the one who would be the Consolation of Israel. More than that, we read in verse 26 that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Yes, he was old, but he was looking forward to the coming of the one that the Lord had anointed to be the Savior of his people, and had been told that he would not die until he had seen him. We read in verse 27, “So he came by 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.” God had fulfilled his promise, and this old man had seen God in the flesh, the one that God had promised. He is only a baby of eight days, and yet Simeon says of him, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” [vss. 29-32] He may be just a baby, and yet, Simeon understands that he himself is the salvation that God has sent, the light of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.
But there was also an old lady there. In some ways, for the people of this world, being an old lady is even worse than being an old man. Old men may still have their money and intelligence, even if they have lost their youth and vitality. But for women, oftentimes they lose their beauty, and so think they have lost everything. But this was not Anna’s attitude at all. She, like Simeon, lived a life of hope. We read that she “did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” She lived a life of hope, and so we read that “coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” She was a prophetess, and upon seeing Jesus, she recognized him for who he was, and so gave thanks to the Lord. And, she went out and spoke of Jesus, “to all those who looked for the redemption in Jerusalem.” She, as old as she was, was looking for the salvation of her people, and now, at the end of her life, she had found it in this little baby. And, she was not content to just be happy for herself. She went out, and spoke of Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.
Let me ask you, of all the people in this passage—Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna—which ones were important? I suppose in the eyes of the world, Caesar Augustus was the most important, but what did he end up with in the end? Does anybody celebrate Caesar’s Day today? Mary, and Joseph, and the shepherds, and Simeon, and Anna were nobodies. But they saw in those days of the birth and dedication of Jesus Christ, as Simeon says, the Salvation of our God. None of them had a formal education, none of them had money, none of them had power, and although Mary and Joseph had a tenuous connection to the royal family as descendents of David, they too had been brought to abject poverty. And yet, all of them, as humble as they were, were the objects of God’s mercy, for they had seen, even at his birth, the one who would be the salvation of his people.
Perhaps you are impressed by the power, and wealth, and glory of the people of this world. And it is impressive. But Christ Jesus did not come into the world to save those who are great and mighty. He came to save the poor and humble, and to do so, he humbled himself, even to death, death on the cross. And he did not do this to gain any fame, or glory, or power, but simply because he loved us, and gave himself for us. May God grant us the grace to love him as he has loved us, and to humble ourselves, that we might not only receive salvation, but proclaim it to others. Amen.