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.

Red Letter Year: 6/19

Luke 1:57-80

57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.

59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

65 Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:

68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.

69 He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,

70 just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.

71 Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.

72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant—

73 the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.

74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear,

75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.

76 And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.

77 You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.

78 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

80 John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.


Because of God’s tender mercy, a gentle sunrise is breaking through the darkness, freeing us from our enemies and enabling us to serve God without fear, doing what is holy and just. Zechariah’s prophecy echoes Mary’s song and continues Luke’s introduction to his Gospel. As we noted yesterday, these are not misguided expectations, they are here to help us understand the remainder of Luke’s account. Just as it will be concerned with economic reversal, it will also be concerned with deliverance from enemies, holiness, justice, salvation, and the path of peace. These themes may also be found in Mark and Matthew, but we will see Luke ordering his account to place special emphasis on Gospel themes that he may have regarded as underdeveloped. Luke made use of both Mark and Matthew, so we will pay closer attention to how he reorders their material. That may sound like dry work, but it will yield fruit that accentuates these early prophetic words. It would be good to get these firmly in your mind and heart as we proceed.

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.