Luke 2

The Word Made Fresh

1In those days the emperor Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken of the whole Roman world. 2This was the first census, and Quirinus was governor of Syria at the time. 3Everyone had to go to their ancestor’s hometown to be counted. 4So, Joseph traveled from the village of Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David called Bethlehem because that was his ancestral home.  

5He went there to be counted along with Mary to whom he was engaged, and who was expecting a child. 6While they were in Bethlehem the time came for her child to be born, 7and she bundled him with strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

8Shepherds were keeping watch in the fields over their flock that night, 9when an angel of the LORD appeared to them. God’s glory shown around them, and they were afraid, 10but the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I am bringing you good news, and everyone will rejoice! 11This day in the city of David a child is born for you – a Savior who is Christ the LORD! 12This is how you will know it is true; you will find a child wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13Then suddenly the angel was joined by a heavenly army, praising God, saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and peace among those on earth whom God favors.”

15After the angels left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem right now, and see what has happened that the LORD has told us of.” 16They hurried there, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the manger. 17And having seen it for themselves, they announced to everyone what they had heard about the newborn child. 18Everyone they told was amazed by the news. 19But Mary kept all this and treasured it, wondering over it in her heart. 20The shepherds returned to the fields praising God for the glorious things they had been told, and the things they had seen and heard.

21On the eighth day the child was circumcised and named Jesus, the name the angel had given Mary before she was even pregnant.

22When their purification rituals were complete, in keeping with the law of  Moses they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the LORD 23(it is recorded in the law of the LORD, ‘Every first-born male child shall be set apart as sacred to the LORD’). 24They gave as a sacrifice, according to the law of the LORD, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’

25There was a man named Simeon in Jerusalem who was very devout. He looked for Israel to receive God’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was with him. 26The Spirit had told him that he would not die before he had seen the LORD’s Messiah. 27With the Spirit’s guidance he had entered the temple just as the parents brought the child Jesus to present him to the LORD. 28Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God. He said,

29“Master, now dismiss your servant in peace as you promised. 30My eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have arranged for all peoples, 32as a light to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.”

32The child’s parents were amazed by what he had said about the child. 34And then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, “This child’s destiny is to oversee the falling and the rising of many in Israel. He will be a sign that will be opposed 35in such a way that the secret desires of many will be exposed. And a sword will pierce your soul as well.”

36A prophet named Anna was also there. She was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, and was very old. She had lived with her husband for seven years, 37and now she was a widow at eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped there, fasting and praying night and day. 38She entered at that moment and began to praise God for the child, on behalf of the people who were looking for the restoration of Jerusalem.

39When they had completed all the LORD’s requirements, Mary and Joseph returned to their own town, Nazareth in Galilee. 40The child grew in strength and knowledge, and God’s favor was with him.

41Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. 42When Jesus was twelve years old they went as usual. 43When the festival ended they started back home. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents weren’t aware of it. 44They assumed he was with their group of travelers, and they had traveled a whole day before they started looking for him among their friends and relatives. 45When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46Three days later they found him in the temple with the teachers, taking part in their discussions and asking them questions. 47Everyone listening was surprised at his level of understanding and at the answers he gave. 48His parents were shocked when they saw him, and his mother said, “Young man, why have you ignored us like this? Your father and I have been looking all over for you. We were very worried about you.”

49He replied, “Why were you worried? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

50They didn’t understand what he meant. 51He went with them back to Nazareth, and was an obedient son to them. His mother quietly pondered everything that had happened.

52As the years passed, Jesus grew in wisdom and in favor with God and with people.


1-7: Luke turns now to the birth of Jesus, and he begins by situating the tale in a solid historical setting. Augustus ruled Rome from 27 B.C. until 14 A.D. There is a problem, however, with the census of Quirinius which apparently took place in 6 A.D. Matthew places the birth of Jesus squarely during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. (Matthew 2:1). However, Matthew failed to explain why Jesus, whose earthly parents were from Nazareth, should be born in Bethlehem, except that it fit an Old Testament passage Matthew wanted to use. Luke explains that they were required by Roman law to take part in a government-mandated census by returning to their ancestral home. Many scholars believe Luke was mistaken in connecting the birth with the census. Luke, by the way, has the baby Jesus laid in a manger but doesn’t actually mention a stable. The stable was a setting used by St. Francis of Assisi when he came up with the brilliant idea of staging the birth story, and “invented” the Christmas pageant we are familiar with today. It is unlikely that in first century Judea scarce building materials would have been used for mangers and stables. The manger would most likely have been of stone and would have been outdoors or in a cave. As far as the inn is concerned, it is unlikely that a woman in labor would have been allowed to stay there whether there was room or not because anyone coming into contact with her would have been considered “unclean”.

8-14: Luke is the only gospel that includes this pastoral scene of shepherds being the first to hear of the birth of the Messiah. We are left in no doubt that this is a divine event, for a whole bunch of angels stand around the shepherds and sing about God’s glory and the peace God is bringing to the people.

15-20: The shepherds go into the village, find the baby and tell everybody about their experience in the fields. They become the first evangelists.

21: As in the case of John, Jesus’ name was also revealed by the angel Gabriel, and as in the case of John the name is made public at the time of the child’s circumcision.

22-24: Some scholars speculate that Luke was not very familiar with Jewish purification rituals, for he refers to “their” purification, when the Law called only for the mother’s purification after having given birth. The child was not purified by sacrifice, but was to be redeemed by giving a redemption price, but Luke doesn’t mention this. The “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” is the sacrifice specified in the Law for those who could not afford the prescribed sacrifice of a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove (see Leviticus 12:6-8). This is important in Luke because Jesus is to be the lamb of sacrifice to “purify” the world.

25-35: Now we have another vignette, the kind of which Luke was very fond: an otherwise uninvolved bystander confirms the divine status of the child’s nature. The Holy Spirit, who has been very active in the story, influences a man named Simeon to announce that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have waited. His pronouncement has the elements of an oracle, ending with a veiled reference to some mysterious tragedy that would occur during the child’s later career and cause the mother’s grief.

36-40: Another witness appears to confirm Jesus’ special status before Joseph and Mary return home with their newborn. It is interesting how Luke presents those who recognize the Messiah: first, a woman (Elizabeth), then shepherds, then a man (Simeon), then another woman (Anna). This inclusion of women as prominent individuals in the story is one of the hallmarks of Luke’s gospel.

41-52: Scholars have long noted similarities between the childhood accounts of Jesus and those of the prophet Samuel. Compare the information contained in verse 41 with 1 Samuel 1:21, for example. This story of Jesus in the temple at age 12 is the only information we have about him between infancy and baptism in any of the gospels.


The birth of Jesus is the best evidence we have of God’s unfailing love for us. Israel was an impoverished nation in those days, ruled by a foreign power. Poverty was rampant. Old age was enjoyed by a small minority of the people; the average lifespan was around 40. When humanity was at its lowest ebb, God showed up as a tiny child born out of wedlock to parents who possessed little wealth. When we are at the end of our rope, so to speak, God is standing on the sidelines, ready to step in and take part. But it’s hard to see God unless we’re on our knees.