We have finally arrived at the New Testament and the birth of Jesus. The promises and prophecies of the Old Testament have pointed us to this hinge moment in history when God came and lived among us. Only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) include infancy narratives, descriptions of the events surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus. Today's reading is from the first two chapters of Luke's gospel account, which includes not only the birth narrative of Jesus, but that of John the Baptist as well.
The theological points that could be made about these two chapters are too numerous to expound upon here, but let me address two important themes:
The Temple: The opening section of the birth narrative of John the Baptist (1:8-23) begins in the temple where Zechariah was serving as a priest of the Lord. The conclusion of the birth narrative of Jesus (2:21-38) also takes place in the temple where Jesus is presented to the Lord. At the age of twelve, Jesus is found in temple and declares "I must be in my Father's house" (1:39-52). The image of the temple will be a central theme in the gospel of Luke, a theme which is found in the final verse of the gospel, which describes the disciples as "continually in the temple blessing God." For Luke, the story of Jesus is a continuation and culmination of the story of the covenant relationship between God and his people, of which the temple is significant symbol.
Mary the Virgin: Both Matthew and Luke refer to Mary as a virgin and emphasize the miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The early church fathers universally accepted the doctrine of the virgin birth as an essential component of orthodox Christianity. This is reflected in the early creeds of the church such as the Nicene Creed, which states that "by the power of the Holy Spirit [Jesus] became incarnate from the Virgin Mary." The doctrine of the virgin birth was not widely challenged until the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. It is important to distinguish the doctrine of the virgin birth from the Roman Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception, which states that although Mary was conceived naturally (through sexual intercourse), she was born without the "stain" of original sin.
Things Unique to Luke's Infancy Narrative:
- The Story of John the Baptist's Birth
- The Census Decreed by Caesar Augustus
- The Journey to Bethlehem
- The Birth of Jesus in a Manger
- The Announcement to the Shepherds
- The Story of Jesus as a Boy in the Temple
As you can see, without Luke's infancy narrative, the annual Children's Christmas pageant would be sorely lacking!!!