December 13, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

A Savior is born who is Messiah and Lord

John F. Fink(Third of four columns)

St. Luke’s Gospel tried to pinpoint the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. He wrote that it was during the reign of Caesar Augustus and while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Unfortunately, that presented problems for historians because they can’t find evidence of a census during that time frame that would have required Joseph to travel to Bethlehem to register.

I don’t have space to go into such details. Maybe Luke just combined Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with a vague knowledge of a census to emphasize the significance of Jesus’ birth. It was during the pax Augusta (peace of Augustus) that the real Prince of Peace was born.

Both Luke and Matthew, who were obviously writing from different sources since many of their details are different, agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It’s an historic fact, but also a theological one because it fulfilled Micah’s prophecy (Mic 5:1) that the ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem.

And so he was. Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). God, who assumed our human nature, was born in a stable meant for animals, inside one of the many rocky caves in Bethlehem that were used as stables.

That cave has been under the Church of the Nativity, the oldest still existing Christian church in the world, ever since it was built by Constantine and his mother Helena from 327 to 333. They knew which cave because, in the second century, the Romans had tried to wipe out any remembrance of Christ’s birth there by building a shrine to Adonis on the spot.

Shepherds nearby are the first to be told of Jesus’ birth. An angel tells them, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:11). This is the basic message of the infancy narratives. Jesus is “Savior,” who will redeem mankind. He is “Messiah” or “Christ,” the anointed one. He is “Lord,” or God.

Then a multitude of angels said, “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). Although Jesus was born during the pax Augusta, the peace of Christ will surpass that of Emperor Augustus.

Naturally, the shepherds hurried to see the newborn baby about whom the angels spoke, and then spread the word about what they had seen.

Luke’s Gospel then tells us how Mary and Joseph, as devout Jews, fulfilled the Jewish laws, first by having Jesus circumcised on the eighth day. Then, on the 40th day, they went to the Temple in Jerusalem where Mary was purified in a mikvah, and Jesus, as the first-born son, was consecrated to the Lord.

There is no requirement that these things be done in the Temple, but this story gives Luke the opportunity to report the prophecies of Simeon and Anna regarding the child.

Luke then has the Holy Family return to Nazareth. But not Matthew, as we’ll see next week. †

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