Bible Study 12.5.11, 12.8.11, 12.11.11 For Worship 12.25.11Posted: November 28, 2011
Bible Study 12.5.11, 12.8.11. 12.11.11 For Worship 12.25.11
Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.
2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
4 And 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 lineage of David,
5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.
7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Bible Study 12.12.11, 12.15.11, 12.18.11 For Worship 12.25.11
Luke 2: 8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was 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!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;
18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke’s nativity narrative is a story teller’s jewel. Once upon a time in order for the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the world, issued a decree that all the world should pay taxes to Rome, and so poor Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and journey to Bethlehem, to pay Caesar’s tax because Joseph was of the House and Lineage of David. Wow, this story has everything, an oppressive ruler of the world ordering everyone to pick up and make a journey in order to be counted in the census and pay a tax. We should note that a census was one of the acts of government considered to be problematical in the Hebrew scriptures. At several places in the law of Moses provision is made for the taking of a census. (Exodus 30:12-14, Numbers 1:49, Numbers 26:2-4, II Chronicles 2:17-18.) But then II Samuel 24:1-17 is a long story about a census ordered by King David that was forbidden and resulted in a punishing plague from God. Certainly a census ordered by a foreign King for purposes of taxation was an evil fate for Israel.
Both Caesar Augustus and Quirinius give Luke’s narrative the semblance of history. The problem is that the dates for Caesar and Quirinius don’t coincide with the estimated date for the birth of Jesus 4 B.C. The Gospel of Luke links the birth of Jesus to a “world-wide” census ordered by Augustus carried out while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is thought to be a reference to the census of Judea in 6/7 AD, when Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed as Tetrarch of Judea; however, Luke also, like the Gospel of Matthew, dates the birth to the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC, ten years before the census of 6 or 7 AD.
Luke’s story also tells us that Mary and Joseph were poor. Jesus was born in a cave, because there was no room in the inn. Clearly Bethlehem was crowded for the census, but for those who have the money there is always room in the Inn. Luke’s gospel constantly expresses sympathy for the poor. We might think that a carpenter was middle class, but in First Century Israel “carpenters” were simply landless peasants, laborers who were only just above unskilled landless agricultural laborers. In First Century Israel manipulation of credit and foreclosures on land debts, ignoring the principle of the Jubilee, had resulted in thousands of peasants being pushed off the land, and large wealthy land holders consolidating ever larger holdings. Contrast the child of landless peasants with Caesar Augustus the ruler of the world. This new religion claiming as their messiah a poverty stricken peasant was a radical and revolutionary faith.
The story of the Shepherds is probably not historical. Numerous scholars point out that shepherds would not have been in the field with their flocks in mid-winter, rather the time for shepherds to be in the field at night is during spring lambing season. Luke had two reasons for including the shepherds of Bethlehem in his story. The Great King David was a shepherd of Bethlehem. The shepherds of Luke’s story represent David. The shepherds also represent poor landless peasants. By the time of the First Century, shepherds were usually landless agricultural workers, who did not own their sheep, and they certainly did not own any productive agricultural land. Grazing land was marginal. So if you were grazing sheep you didn’t own, you were indeed poor.
The angels’ appearance to the shepherds provides an element of mystery and miracle as well as a divine announcement and confirmation of the birth. The appearance of the angels to the shepherds is one of the few places in the scriptures, where more than one angel appears to more than one human. This was a special event. On the other hand who would believe the shepherds? Mary and Joseph were surprised by the story of the shepherds, but then each of them had experienced their own divine encounter, so Mary takes all of the news and ponders it in her heart.
If God were to enter history today, what would the story look like? A 1945 movie entitled “Star in the Night,” almost seems to have anticipated our present struggle over illegal immigration. (see plot notes) Mary and Joseph appear as an impoverished Hispanic couple who spend the night in a shed out behind a motel. When the baby is born, three cow boys offer gifts to the child. That film was made in 1945 and uncannily anticipates our present political problems over race and immigration. If we were to imagine a remake of the Christmas Story today, where would the story take place? What would be the ethnic background or nationality or socio-economic background of the characters? What role do stories still serve in our faith development?
Plot notes: “Star in the Night” This modern version of the Christmas story adds elements of ‘Charles Dickens’ ‘ “A Christmas Carol.” On Christmas Eve somewhere in the US southwest, three cowboys are riding through the desert night with items they purchased at a general store. They see a bright light just above the horizon and decide to find out where the light is coming from. The light turns out to be a newly installed light, in the shape of a large star, at the Star Auto Court. The auto court’s owner, Nick, doesn’t believe there is much good left in the world. He complains that people wish each other ‘Merry Christmas,’ then look out only for themselves the rest of the year. His customers get the brunt of his rudeness, but they have no other choice of lodging nearby.
Nick, the motel owner who has lost faith in more than just the humanity of mankind, is visited by a kindly stranger on Christmas Eve. The motel’s guests are only concerned for themselves until a poor man and his wife, Jose and Maria Santos, drive up to the motel, unable to go any further. Out of rooms, Nick’s wife prepares a place for them in a shed under a neon star Nick had just finished hanging. Their plight brings out the generosity in everyone, including Nick, who remembers another family almost two thousand years earlier that also found a makeshift room at an inn under another kind of star. For a Youtube excerpt from “Star In the Night” paste this link into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkoaO3t3b0s
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
Who was Emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth?
2. Who was Governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth?
3. According to the text what great event forced Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem?
4. According to the text where did Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem?
5. According to the text where were the shepherds, when the angel appeared to them?
6. What was the Angel’s message?
7. How many angels appeared to the shepherds?
8. How long did the angels stay?
9. Where did the angels look for the Holy Family?
10. After the shepherds visited the child, what did they do?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Do you think the Christmas narrative according to Luke was an attempt by the early church to contrast Jesus with Caesar Augustus?
2. When you read Luke’s story separate from Matthew’s story, what differences do you see?
3. Do you think Luke succeeds in presenting the poverty of the Holy Family?
4. How do you think Luke’s story contrasts with the way we celebrate Christmas?
5. If God were to “show up” in our world today, in what story do you think God would appear?
6. Can you think of any modern stories you think have profound faith implications?
7. If God showed up, who do you think God would inform, and how do you think God would do it?
8. How would you rewrite the song of the heavenly host for today?
9. If God sent an angel to you this Christmas, what do you think the message would be?
10. If you could go back and be a character in the Christmas Story, what character would that be?