Monday, July 2, 2018

Edging into Luke 2 ...

Some parts of the Bible are so familiar it is hard to read them well. That is certainly the case with Luke 2:1-20. For many of us it is nearly impossible to read these verses without imagining a Sunday School Christmas program, bathrobes and cardboard crowns and the innkeeper solemnly shaking his head. Or maybe you hear Linus reciting these verses. Or perhaps like me, the words, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus ..." launch you into a memory of family Christmas Eves, sitting around a tree waiting to open presents.

These memories and associations are not bad things, but they keep us from really hearing the verses. And the Sunday School imagery makes all kinds of visuals that frankly are nowhere to be found in the text.

Luke's original readers in the first century would have resonated with the idea that Caesar Augustus (and subsequent Caesars) could simply pronounce an edict that moved populations. Joseph and Mary are caught up in the requirements of Caesar's rule, and everyone who read this gospel was familiar with the Roman censuses. It was customary for Rome to require a census every 14 years. There is a well-documented census in 6-7 AD, and if the 14 year pattern held, a census declared in 8-7 BC would do nicely for our purposes -- meaning that allowing some time for the wheels of administrative purpose to grind into motion, Jesus was probably born around 6-5 BC. Thousands of paragraphs, pages, books have been written about the possible dating of Jesus' birth, and we won't dig too far into it here. All in all, Luke's account is entirely plausible, though Quirinius is a bit of a problem.

For our purposes at the moment, though, consider the complete ordinariness of this story, and how God is involved in the mundane. Have you ever considered that God can use the IRS or your tax return? Have you imagined that a presidential executive order, a home refinance program, or a student loan policy might be used by God to shape your life? Even Augustus, according to Luke, is used by God to accomplish his purposes. In this case, the census fulfills a 600-year-old prophecy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.

God is moving, and he sometimes acts through the must subtle of factors. The trick for us is to be seeking him -- and God will do whatever is needful to set us free to seek him. As Oswald Chambers says this morning, people "pour themselves into creeds, and God has to blast them out of their prejudices before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ." 

No comments:

Post a Comment