Luke Part 1 (1:14:13) Qindepthonline Lutheran Bible Study

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“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. 13:14) Our theme for the sermon is “grace, love and fellowship”. Since today is Trinity.

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Ask any parent or grandparent about the birth of a new baby and they typically can describe the event in great detail.

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I have been regaled with these stories too many times to count. Some birth stories get a lot more press than others, including the birth of Prince George in the UK. It seems people wanted to know every detail. But for many births we know very little.

Luke Part 1 (1:14:13) Qindepthonline Lutheran Bible Study

As the mother of an adopted child from Russia, all I have is the police report that was made when my son was abandoned at the hospital in Yekaterinburg hours after his birth. The story told by his birthmother is in the report and gives me a glimpse into the story of his birth. It makes me a little sad, but also makes me feel extremely blessed every time I think of it.

Birth stories are often extremely powerful. They can immediately bring us back to a joyous moment, they can sadly remind us of some couple’s struggles with infertility, they can stir our imaginations of children hoped for, and they can make us aware of the difficult origin circumstances some folks had to overcome in their lives.

As most birth stories begin, the storyteller sets the stage. They describe the setting and the situation into which the child was born. They bring us into the realities of the event. In Luke we are told of the reason the family travelled so late in Mary’s pregnancy. We are brought into the place of the birth and why the location of his birth came about (verses 1-7). In Luke, this birth story follows the story of John’s birth, told in a similar fashion (1:57-80). These are joyous events, but also miraculous in so many ways.

The birth story of Jesus comes in three parts: the birth (verses 1-7), the proclamation of the birth to the shepherds (verses 8-20), and the circumcision and naming (verse 21). This is similar to the threefold structure of John’s birth story. In many ancient and modern stories we might very well see the same structure: the birth; the announcement of the birth to others; and the circumcision and naming of boys, the naming of girls and uncircumcised males, dedication or infant baptism. But we, as Christians, despite the similarities of stories, believe that the birth of Jesus was different from all births before or since. This is the birth story of all birth stories, because this is the birth story of the Messiah, the Son of God.

The historical accuracy of the story is debated due to questions regarding the census dates as described by Luke, but nonetheless, Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem for the birth according to Matthew, Mark and Luke.1 The power of the story comes in its humbleness — a babe born in a stable or cave, wrapped in simple clothes, and laid to rest in an animal trough (verse 7).


The birth story is one of simplicity; the first ones told of the birth of the Messiah are shepherds out in the fields (verses 8-12). This is who Luke tells us learned of the event before all others. This is a stunning fact. It parallels a connection to the marginalized, the lowly, and the common and often unacceptable people of first century Judea that will be present throughout Jesus’ life and ministry. It reminds us that these are the very people who Jesus will invite to be part of the Kingdom of God. These are the very people Jesus wants at a banquet of the Kingdom of God (14:13, 21).2 What a glimpse into his future life this birth story provides. And what a life he will lead.

But for now he is a tiny baby with a birth story that is uniquely powerful in its simplicity. He is the son of God, but he is also the child of a young mother spent from labor and the son of a carpenter possibly unsure of how he will parent this newborn child.

Many new parents have fears and dreams for their newborns. Many worry about how their children’s lives will turn out and if they will be happy. Some are confronted with a child’s illness from the outset, while others will deal with significant health concerns for their children later on in life. Some will be close to their children and some will never learn to relate. Many will face tough teenage and young adult years. Many will watch their children thrive and succeed. Some have had many complications in completing adoptions processes. Many will just try to survive the pain of a child they will never get to raise themselves.

My mother told me, shortly after adopting my son, that all I can do is my best and then leave the rest to God and the lessons I taught him in the years he is in my care. I imagine that is part of what Mary is feeling. She is exhausted but happy. She is concerned but hopeful. And she knows that God has a role in her son’s life unlike anything the world had seen or heard of before.

This is, after all, Christmas Eve and we should all be happy now, right? But that is not true for all who will hear you preach this night. In preaching this text, the sermon should be sensitive to the various realities of birth stories, childbirth and infertility, and child-rearing. Extoling the joys of parenting in the message may bring significant pain to some of your listeners. The preacher should also be aware that for many the holidays are not a very joyous time. Being delicate in regard to the realities of your context will be key.

Preaching a text about the birth of the hope of the world — a baby wrapped in simple cloths and laid in a manger — can offer an entry point into these varied situations. It is, after all, the birth story of all birth stories.

1 Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 34-35. Sfs spotted triumphsugars legacy stables cave creek.

2 Craddock, Luke, 36.

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This passage follows upon the heels of the temptation narrative in which Jesus emerges the victor over Satan, at least for the time being.

He is now ready to begin his public ministry and deliver his inaugural address in his own home town.

Luke writes that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit. He had actually been strengthened by the experience of his encounter with evil. He went to Galilee, as each Gospel relates, signifying his aim to reach Gentiles. But there were synagogues in Galilee too and in these Jesus was teaching and being glorified by everyone. This sets up the next story of Jesus’ appearance in his home town.

Luke Part 1 (1:14:13) Qindepthonline Lutheran Bible Study -

Luke is careful to relate that Jesus went home and that he regularly worshipped in the synagogue. He was a faithful Jew, not someone who darkened the doors of the synagogue only at Yom Kippur and Passover. Jesus rose up to read. Someone gave him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, but Jesus chose the passage. Unfortunately for Luke, there is no single passage with those words in it, but rather it is a compilation of the Servant Song from Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2. Perhaps Jesus conflated the two readings himself. In any case, the good news is read.

As the prophetic passage stated, someone had been anointed to proclaim the gospel (good news). The irony is that Jesus is the one anointed at his baptism at which the Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, according to Luke. But only Luke and the reader know that at this point. As with all Epiphany texts, this one holds hidden promise for the future.

The good news in Isaiah refers to the restoration of Israel after the exile. The “poor” receive good news, not cash, because in Isaiah they are the afflicted and the oppressed in general, not merely the penniless. Likewise, captives are not convicted criminals but those unjustly imprisoned. The sightless will see again. All these promises will be fulfilled in the telling of the story of Jesus as he releases people from demon possession and death, spiritual and physical blindness.

All these activities are tied together in the “year of the Lord’s favor.” Does this refer to the Jubilee Year as proclaimed in Leviticus 25:10? If so, it is another ironic utterance. The Jubilee Year was to have occurred every fifty years in Israel when the land was to lay fallow, all debts forgiven, and all slaves freed. However, Jeremiah 34:14 suggests that the Jubilee Year had not been followed and that when King Zedekiah did try to institute the practice, it was circumvented by the people. Confusion abounds as to whether or not the practice was ever truly instituted. Yet, the Jubilee Year has influenced such practices as the statute of limitations in our day.

Such pronouncements of authoritative largesse by kings and rulers had been commonplace among the ancients. The Caesars were often portrayed as grand liberators and generous benefactors. For Jesus to read this message from Isaiah and proclaim its fulfillment is therefore an indictment of all politicians who claim to bring release and freedom. True freedom does not consist in money and possessions or in the ability to do as one pleases.

Americans are used to the idea of freedom as license to do as one wishes. Jesus, however, understands freedom differently. It is a release from captivity to death, the will of others, and the will of the self. Jesus will preach the freedom of slavery to God’s will and service to the neighbor (Luke 22:24-27). Such a definition of freedom can only be grasped from the way Jesus will fulfill the words of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus withstood the temptation in the wilderness. He is tempted yet again to say the easy thing and do whatever it takes to curry favor with his listeners. As is apparent from the rest of this passage in Luke (verses 22-30) he resists that temptation as well. The Revised Common Lectionary has divided the passage in Luke, which robs this first part of its denouement. As a result the preacher must split the message in two and concentrate on Jesus’ positive message in the first part and his antagonism and the congregations’ reaction in the second.

Luke Part 1 (1:14:13) Qindepthonline Lutheran Bible Study 1

This first part deals with messianic deliverance and the alteration of the status quo. God never leaves people where he finds them. A change in condition always accompanies an encounter with the divine. Radical change is what Jesus proclaims and will perform. Jesus does not merely affirm the condition of his children. He is about the reversal of fortunes that results not just in change in one’s environmental state, but in the person itself.

This is not the change that happens with the turnover in governmental administrations. This is real change in the spirit and life of the person who hears this good news and whose life is never the same afterward. The Jubilee Year may or may not have been practiced in ancient Israel, but Jesus’ announcement does not come simply as an injunction upon imperfect people but as words with power, which affects the change proclaimed.

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The change is not a concept or an idea. It is a person. The first person singular pronoun is used three times in verse 18. Jesus is the change. Therefore, any definition of release, sight, gospel, or change must be taken from his actions and his words. But this is only the beginning. The rest of the story will tell us what real change is and means.