Read the text below, preferably aloud. As you hear the word, “listen with the ear of your heart” for a word or short phrase that God has for you this day.
Luke 2: 1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
As I listen to this Scripture passage, I am deeply moved by the simplicity with which Luke shares the story of the setting and birth of Jesus the Christ.
Luke begins with a registration. In the Roman Empire, such periodic decrees were carried out every fourteen years for the dual purpose of taxation and for discovering who was eligible for mandatory military service. Since Jews, like Joseph, were exempt from military service, such a registration in Palestine would be primarily for taxation. The requirement for everyone to travel to “their own towns to be registered” meant that Joseph and Mary had to make the eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Biblical scholars have suggested that since the timeframe of the Emperor Augustus and governor Quirinius Luke presents does not agree with historical dates of these two rulers, Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a literally device used by Luke to provide a means of getting the Holy Couple to Bethlehem, the “city of David,” where tradition placed Jesus’ birth in the time of King Herod (Matthew 2: 1-6) and also because Micah prophesied that the Davidic messiah was to be born in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem….from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). But such discrepancies take nothing away from the simplicity and depth of meaning of the Birth of the Savior, “descended from the house and family of David.” For the evangelists in the New Testament, after all, are recording the history of salvation rather than secular or scientific history. Luke is writing to an audience who knew Augustus as the Emperor of Peace and creator of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). To capture the significance, therefore, of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, Luke connects the Birth of Christ as occurring in the time of the Emperor of Peace.
The event of the birth of Jesus itself is reported very briefly in the last verse of this Lucan reading: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The Greek word kataluma is better understood as “lodging area” rather than “inn,” and could refer either to space in a house or the area where travelers and their animals gathered in the open. Luke gives no details of the surroundings. Luke does not mention an innkeeper – often portrayed as cold of heart and insensitive in tableaus! But Luke does record “a manger” – a feeding trough for animals – where our Lord was laid. Such is the simplicity and humble nature of the Birth of Christ that is placed before us this day. What word or phrase is God whispering to your heart as you listen to this scripture today?
“A light will shine on us this day: the Lord is born for us.”
– Fr Kirtley Yearwood
© Birth of Christ, Donald Jackson, 2002. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.