Flashback Episode — A Manger of Great Joy: Luke 2:1-20

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As we continue into Luke’s gospel, we come to what might be the most Christmas-themed passage in the whole Bible. However, just because many of us have read or heard it as recently as last month, doesn’t mean that there aren’t truths tucked in it that are relevant for us regardless of what time of year we are in.

Let’s start reading this passage, and pause when we get to an interesting point or idea. We’ll be reading from Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, using the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, we read:

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

When I read this passage, I’m not sure if it is the traditional Christmas story that makes me think this, or if it is my mind that wants to condense the time frame. I don’t know how long Roman registration took for each person when they were doing a census, but in my mind, I always imagined that Jesus was born sometime during the night they arrived. But nothing in this passage hints at this idea, or even that the manger Jesus was laid in was out in a stable or cave with animals.

By the time the wise men arrive in Matthew’s gospel, which was actually a separate event from the shepherds, Matthew describes them going to a house, which might indicate that Jesus was born in the house of an unknown person.

I wonder if because there was no room in the inn, one of Joseph’s relatives offered to let them stay with them, or perhaps a friend of the innkeeper. However, this homeowner didn’t have anything prepared for a newborn, so this couple went out and got a manger from their stable so that the newborn could have a safe place to lay.

Let’s keep reading and see if we can see any other interesting details surrounding this event. Picking back up in verse 8, we learn that:

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Let’s pause reading again here because two ideas stood out to me. The first thing I’ll draw our attention to is how the angelic choir praised God. Most of us are probably familiar with the King James Version of this message, but the NASB gives the last phrase a different angle. While the King James reads, “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” the NASB describes this message as, “And on earth peace among men with whom He [God] is pleased.

This is a fascinating distinction because as I read and compare the various translations, most translations read more similarly to the New American Standard Bible than the King James. This means, at least to me, that God wishes there to be peace among those with whom He is pleased, and if we desire to be pleased by God, we probably should desire His peace to fill our lives. It also might imply that God dislikes those who disrupt peace, whether this be in a society, a faith community, or between countries.

The other thing I noticed while reading this is in the first angel’s message. The original angel messenger begins his message by saying, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”. This stands out in my mind because the good news about Jesus is good news for everyone, not just one particular race or group of people. Jesus came for everyone, and while there are those who reject Him and those who hate Him, Jesus entering the world as a human is great news for everyone because even though Jesus isn’t accepted by everyone, most everyone would agree that something needs to change with the world we live in.

Jesus came the first time to give us a way to benefit from His coming the second time. God has promised that our current earth, with all its issues and problems, is only temporary. God has promised a recreated “new heaven and new earth” with all the flaws of our current world fixed. The only way any of us can experience this is because of Jesus’ first coming, and while there might be an exception or two, even most of those who reject Jesus would not want the current flawed world we live in to continue forever.

The first coming of Jesus is good news of great joy for all people, and the shepherds wanted to know more. Picking back up in verse 15, we discover that:

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

When the shepherds find Jesus, we don’t have any indication about where they found the young couple. It could have been a house, a stable, or simply near a tent and a fire to stay warm. The details surrounding where Jesus was born are less relevant than we might think. What truly matters is why Jesus came, that Jesus came, and what we will do in our own lives because Jesus came.

Our current world won’t continue forever. God has promised us a place in the new heaven and new earth and we can accept this gift and promise by choosing to accept and believe in Jesus. Looking at life from the big picture, this should be our highest goal each and every day of the year. Will you intentionally choose Jesus every day along with me?

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to place Him first each day of your life. While life can get busy and distractions are guaranteed, intentionally make God first in your life, because from the perspective of eternity, a relationship with God is the most important thing we can have!

Also, as I regularly challenge you to do, place God first by intentionally spending time with Him each day in prayer and by personally reading your Bible. Don’t take a pastor or podcaster’s word for it. Discover what the Bible says for yourself by opening up the Bible and reading it for yourself!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 2: When reading one of the most famous Christmas passages in the Bible, discover what the Bible doesn’t say about Jesus’ birth story, and a big truth about what it does share that is relevant in all of our lives, every day of the year!

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