The Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain the so-called “infancy accounts” of Jesus and, in them, the account of his birth. At Christmas time, as this year of 2010 comes to an end (corresponding to the Liturgical Cycle A), we will celebrate at midnight the solemn liturgy of the birth of Jesus Christ with the Luke account: Luke 2,1-14.
In order to contemplate the depth and the details contained in the sense and message of the account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke, we should keep the following in mind:
- Luke’s Gospel is the first part of a larger work that includes a second volume: the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
- Luke’s Gospel is directed to the early Christian communities of Syria, Greece or Asia Minor characterized as communities and people who were extremely poor.
- The definitive form of the third Gospel, as we know it, dates approximately from the year 80 A.D. and is considered to be the work of Luke, who was a missionary companion of Paul, with a background in the Greek language, culture and formation.
- The Gospel of Luke places much emphasis on God’s profound love for all men and, especially, for the poorest, those lacking shelter, marginalized, disabled, and needy.
- Luke uses the title “Lord” in reference to Jesus, not only following the resurrection, but also as regards his mortal life. For the communities he addressed, in which reverence was given to the Roman emperor, this fact had special significance.
For Mark, as well as for Paul, authors of the earliest books of the New Testament (the same as for John), the birth of Jesus, as all good news of salvation (gospel), is the mystery of a God who becomes human through the mystery of Jesus crucified and his sacrifice, offering with this to all men and women of good will the possibility of a new way of living and being present in the world.
Without denying this truth, Luke places in the crib of the infant Jesus much of the centrality of the saving mystery for Christians and presents in a fresh way the message that the Church is the depository and messenger: that, through Jesus, God makes himself present among men, entering into human history, and is united with us so that we might become like he is and be one with him.
The account of Jesus’ birth in Luke has such theological emphases as the following:
- All the messianic prophecies so full of significance have in the Luke account and in their fulfillment an unexpected completion and realization because of the simplicity and paucity surrounding their occurrence: revealed to a few shepherds, resting in a feed trough, etc.
- It leads us to Bethlehem: the small town of the messianic promises of Israel. And as an expression and confession of faith that in Jesus all the messianic promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the child born in Bethlehem of Judea.
- The birth is rooted in human history: the political history of Rome, which is the political history of the known world, which stands —with the order of enrolment for the census— at the service of the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies in Jesus. As a member of a profane state in this world the child is born under the authority of Caesar Augustus.
- The child is born abandoned and alone, separated from the “grandiose” pathways and criteria of the earth’s history: in the feed trough of animals.
- The term first-born does not imply the existence of younger siblings but rather refers to Jesus’ legal situation.
- The message of the child’s birth does not come from earth. This great truth is God’s initiative and, on his behalf the angel breaks the silence of the night, of the heavens and the earth, to proclaim the best and greatest news that the earth and men have ever heard: “Today is born unto you a Savior” (2,11).
- The child just born is the Messiah, the Lord, of the lineage of David. In Luke the announcement carries great strength; it is the good news of the birth of the “Soter”, the Savior that in the Israelite experience is called “Messiah” and in the Greek, “Kyrios”: Lord. Savior or, with the same sense, the one who offers us eternal life, abundant life, the happiness that we all seek.
- The Luke’s message is directed to “you”: to the shepherds, to those who are marginalized on the earth, to those who are unseen and in remote places, to those who are far away and to those who —like the child himself— have no place to call home, no shelter or roof over their head in men’s cities, for those who are unaware of the matters of worship and the law, to those of dark deeds, to the unclean, those who are undesirable, the nobodies. To them and with them and through them, to all the small people and the despised of the earth.
- It is a message that breaks away from all the patterns and criteria of ostentation and arrogance, of pride and greatness of the world: “you will find him lying in a manger”.
- The angel’s announcement: “Today in the city of David is born to you a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord” paraphrases the scheme and the formal and official manner in which were made the announcements of the birth of those destined to be emperors.
- “Today”: With this birth the Old Testament is concluded and a new stage breaks through in the manifestation, the relation and the salvation of God among men through this child, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.
- The good news is, from now on, “for all people to be free from fear and to rejoice”.
All of this merits from us “Glory to God…”.