Red Letter Year: 6/20

Luke 2:1-20

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.


Luke’s birth narrative is quite different from Matthew’s (Mark and John do not give birth accounts). In Matthew, wise men from the East follow a star, meet with Herod, give gifts to Jesus’ family and then return without seeing Herod again. Herod murders the baby boys around Bethlehem, while Joseph takes his family to safety in Egypt. The tension in Matthew is between Herod’s illegitimate rule of Israel and the one who has been born King of the Jews and honored as such by the Magi. Luke does not mention Herod, he goes all the way up the political ladder to Augustus. At the same time, Matthew does not tell us that Joseph and Mary had no housing in Bethlehem. Luke situates his account with the highest possible human authority and places the Savior, Christ the Lord in the most humble, transient state possible. Luke is also the only one who tells us about the angel and angel choir announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.

Can you see the themes from Mary’s and Zechariah’s prophecies at work here? Caesar Augustus and a baby wrapped in rags. Angels and shepherds. Luke is telling us, the angels are telling us, that the reversal has already begun. Augustus sends a message to Quirinius, but the angels bypass him and deliver their history-altering message to the lowly. It is appropriate because this Savior has come to dwell with the lowly, the homeless, the hungry. Peace comes to humans because the Prince of Peace brings it all the way down to those our corruption crushes at the bottom. Glory to God indeed.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.