Thee hundred years before Christ, Aristotle was cited as saying that among people, “the laziest are shepherds, who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals; their flocks wandering from place to place in search of pasture, they are compelled to follow them, cultivating a sort of living farm.”
In Luke, the shepherds, not at all esteemed in society, visit a young couple that are travel-weary in a manger, a place designated to gather animals after dark, not a place for humans to give birth.
The parents are so poor, when they go to the temple to present Jesus, they can’t celebrate with a lamb offering, like middle-class or upper-class families desire to do. They have to purchase turtle doves, the offering for poor people. (No wonder Jesus, when He kicks over the tables of the money changers, specifically picks the tables of those who sell turtledoves to topple).
The Humility of Jesus
Dr. Luke, in his depiction of the birth narrative, focuses on the humility and lowliness of Jesus. Luke’s whole gospel teaches that the poor will be made rich and the greedy will receive their consequences. The “good” people are really bad and the “bad” catch amazing grace from the now worthy, yet lowly Jesus.
I like Luke’s version of the birth of Jesus, and that He applies the military term “hosts” to the angels. I always thought the angels sang to the shepherds. As it turns out, they didn’t sing, they announced/proclaimed their message. The angelic military host proclaimed a declaration of war. The great irony in the book of Luke is that the angel’s war cry is a declaration of peace. They come to wage peace on earth, and good will to all men, which, incidentally, is accompanied by, “on whom God’s favor rests.”
A couple things about this. 1) Over and over again the Bible emphasizes the wonder of peace and peacemakers. If we are not in the business of peace, then we are not about God’s business. 2) God’s favor rests on all men. We were born into His favor. He’s on our side. He’s on your side.
I want to be an angel warrior, waging peace on earth, and turning my back on the things that make for war. I want to remember that the lowly of this earth are esteemed by God.
This is the book of Luke. And then there’s Matthew.
King of Kings
While Luke focused on the lowly and humble Jesus, born in a manger, visited by lowly shepherds, Matthew wants to present to us the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords in majesty and royalty. In Matthew the story of Jesus starts with a genealogy that lists kings and royalty, all in the bloodline of Jesus. Matthew presents King David (until Jesus, the king of kings in Judaism) as a direct ancestor of Jesus.
Then Matthew continues. Royalty from the east comes to visit Jesus. They consult Herod, the “king of the Jews,” to find out where He will be born. And then, Matthew makes great efforts to compare the plight of Jesus to the plight of Moses (maybe not an official king, but the greatest leader of God’s people) by showing how Herod acted like Pharaoh, trying to thwart the birth and kingship of Jesus by killing all the children who were two years old and younger. Jesus is further compared to Moses as he travels to Egypt and then comes from Egypt to lead His people.
Of course, we can’t forget the Three Wisemen (Scripture never says there were three. Could have been two. Or nine.) Magi leave Jesus royal gifts (worthy of a king), financially setting Jesus’ family and His ministry up for life.
The New Kingdom
Why does Matthew want to present Jesus as a king? Because to Matthew, the Kingdom is of utmost importance. Matthew wants to usher out the old, tired empire and usher in the new Kingdom with Jesus as its King. This new Kingdom is built on love, forgiveness, inclusion, and defense of those who have been kicked to the curb (See Matthew 5-7, Sermon on the Mount).
I want to be a part of this new Kingdom. This Advent season, I want to worship the newborn King. I hope you do too.
Mark Witas writes from the Pacific Northwest.© 2017 - 2023 When People Are Kind. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.