THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE
Lesson 3: Chapters 1:57-2:52
The Births of St. John and Jesus
The Boy Jesus Teaches in the Temple

Father of Mercy and Life,
We pray that You give us the strength of faith demonstrated by Sts. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. They did not turn away from the destiny to which You called them but with faith, humility, and dignity they submitted themselves to Your sovereign will for their lives and in doing so helped to bring about the cause of salvation for their people and for all people of every ethnicity in every generation. We are grateful, Lord, in this era of the Final Age of Man, that You have also called us to fulfill our destinies in witnessing to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. We ask You to send Your Spirit to guide us in our lesson on the birth of our Savior, being mindful that His first Advent is the prelude to His Second Advent when He will return to judge all men and women of every nation under heaven. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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It was fitting then, that just as death entered the world through the pride of our first parents, the entry of Life should be manifested by the humility of Mary.
St. Bede, The Gospel of Luke

The gates of a blessed eternity, closed after the first sin, and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword, are at last to be opened for the triumphal entry of the Savior of the world.
Blessed Ildefonso Schuster

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.
Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion, Feast of the Dormition, August 15th

After her visit to Elizabeth, Mary returned to Nazareth and continued to yield herself in complete faithfulness, humility and obedience to God's will for her life, becoming the first Christian and the model for all Christians of every generation (CCC 967). Commenting on Mary's complete submission to the will of God throughout her life, in his homily in Mexico City in January of 1979, Pope John Paul II noted that there are four dimensions to Mary's faithfulness:

Take a moment to reflect further on the typology between the events of the Incarnation, Jesus' messianic mission and the events recorded in the Old Testament. We already reflected on the link between Mary and the prophecy concerning the "daughter of Zion," the link between the angel's promises to Mary and the covenant promises God made to Mary's ancestor King David and the link between Mary and the Old Covenant holy relic of the Ark of the Covenant in the last lesson. But there are also other typological links including the link between the Virgin Mary and the Church (see CCC 128-130 for the Church's teaching on biblical typology).

The Church has always viewed Mary as a spiritual symbol of the Church (see CCC# 773, 829, 972). In Scripture the Church is depicted as the virgin Bride of Christ the Bridegroom (Rev 19:5-9). Like the Virgin Mary, the Church is "ever virgin" and yet a "fruitful mother," bringing forth children in every new generations of believers (CCC# 972). The Fathers of the Church also saw Abraham's servant, who was sent to find a virgin bride for Abraham and Sarah's son Isaac, as a symbolic "type" of God the Holy Spirit in His mission to Mary of Nazareth.

Question: How is the Holy Spirit's role in the Incarnation similar to the role of Abraham's servant who was sent to secure a virgin bride for Isaac? Who are the main characters in the story and how would you describe them? See Gen 24:1-67. Does the Holy Spirit have a personal name like the other two Persons of the Most Holy Trinity (Yahweh and Jesus)?
Answer: The Holy Spirit is the only person of the Holy Trinity who does not have a personal name. In Genesis 24, the main characters in the story are the just father Abraham, the faithful unnamed servant, the virgin Rebekah, and the beloved son, Isaac the bridegroom. Abraham's unnamed servant is a biblical "type" for God the Holy Spirit. Sent by God the Father, the Holy Spirit finds the Virgin Mary of Nazareth for the beloved Son.

The Church Fathers often referred to God the Holy Spirit as the "Unnamed Servant" in their writings, and the mission of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary as similar to the mission of Abraham's unnamed servant in seeking a virgin bride in Genesis 24.

Question: Compare the four major roles in the Genesis narrative: the just father, the beloved son and bridegroom (Gen 22:2; 24:5), the servant and the virgin bride with the names of the players in the Genesis drama and contrast them with the Most Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), with Mary and with the New Covenant Church (Mt 9:15; Jn 3:29; Rev 19:7; CCC 507, 796, 865, 967, 972, 1602, 1612).
Answer:

Just Father Abraham Yahweh, God the Father
Beloved Son and bridegroom Isaac Jesus, God the Son
Servant Unnamed Servant God the Holy Spirit
the virgin bride Rebekah Mary/the Church

Question: What is the Holy Spirit's mission in the New Covenant? How is His mission similar to the mission of Abraham's unnamed servant? Jesus told His disciples: However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth... (Jn 16:13-14; also see Jn 14:26; 15:26).
Answer: Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is the mission of the Holy Spirit to bring the "Bride" who is the Church to the "Bridegroom" who is Jesus Christ and to continue to teach the Church about Christ.

Chapter 1:57-80

Luke 1:57-66 ~ The Birth of St. John the Baptist

57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord has shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." 61 But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." 62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. 63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. 65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

St. Luke's pattern of promise and fulfillment continues. Elizabeth conceiving and giving birth to St. John was the fulfillment of the first part of the angel's promise to Zechariah in 1:13.

Question: What other three prophecies of the angel are fulfilled at John's birth?
Answer:

  1. The angel's statement And you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth (1:14) is fulfilled in verse 58: Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord has shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.
  2. The angel's command that the child be named John (1:13) was also fulfilled in verse 60 when Elizabeth said: No. He will be called John and Zechariah confirmed the naming of the child in verse 63, writing John is his name.
  3. The angel told Zechariah But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place ... (1:20) and on the day of his son's birth the angel's prophecy was fulfilled when Zechariah began to talk (verse 64).

Luke 1:59When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child...

Question: What was the significance of a Jewish male child being circumcised on the eighth day? See Gen 17:10 and Lev 12:3.(1)
Answer: In Scripture eight is the number signifying re-birth and salvation. Since the time of Abraham, circumcision was the sign of entrance into the covenant with Yahweh "it was a spiritual re-birth into the family of God. This covenant command was repeated in the Sinai Covenant.

The ceremony of the child's circumcision emphasizes the child's incorporation into the covenant people of Israel and was the physical sign of an internal condition of a life dedicated to God.

Luke 1:59b-64 ...they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." 61 But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." 62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. 63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Question: Why, in addition to the fulfillment of the angel's prophecy, did speech suddenly return to Zechariah?
Answer: His doubt had turned into faith and obedience in giving the child the name the angel instructed him to give the child.

Luke 1:65-66 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Question: Zechariah's inability to speak was a sign the angel gave him that all the events the angel prophesied would come true, but what did Zechariah's inability to speak and the sudden return of his speech mean to their neighbors?
Answer: It was also a "sign" to them that something great was taking place within the family of Zechariah that could have an impact on the covenant people as a whole. Their question reflects that they expect more amazing works of God will follow in the future.

The question the neighbors asked becomes the question on the minds of the readers of Luke's Gospel at this point in the story: "What, then, will this child be?"

Luke 1:67-80 ~ The Canticle of Zechariah
67 Then Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

68 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people. 69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, 70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from old: 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of [to remember] his holy covenant 73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, 74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child [son], will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us 79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Zechariah's Holy Spirit inspired benediction can be divided into two parts that are followed by a concluding statement in verse 80:

  1. The blessing for what God has done: a survey of how God has intervened in the history of the forefathers (verses 68-75).
  2. The prophecy concerning what God will do: proclaiming his son's future prophetic role (verses 77-79).

The priest Zechariah, like Mary, blesses God's mercy for intervening in Israel's history to bring salvation to his people (verses 68, 69, 77). Both the Benedictus of Zechariah and Mary's Magnificat show how God's intervention in a person's life can have implications for the covenant people as a whole. In the first part, speaking in the past tense, Zechariah praises God's deliverance of His people in language that echoes Psalms 41:13a; 7218a and 106:48 (the Psalms that recounts the Exodus story). When he speaks of God's "visitation" it is an allusion to the Exodus liberation and Moses' burning bush experience of God in Exodus chapter 3.

Question: Then in the following verses (68-73) there are allusions to what three past events in salvation history?
Answer: There are references to:

  1. The covenant with King David (verse 68a)
  2. The promises of the prophets (68b)
  3. God's covenant oath to Abraham (72-73).

Luke 1:69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant ... Samuel's mother Hannah uses a similar expression in her hymn of praise to God:

A "horn," the weapon of an enraged bull, was a common biblical symbol of power and strength (other references are found in Ps 18:3; 75:4-5; 89:18 and 112:9). Zechariah's words in verses 69 and 74 are reminiscent of David's reference to the "horn of salvation" and salvation from "enemies" in his hymn of thanksgiving to God in 2 Samuel 22:3-4: ...my God, my rock of refuge! My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior, from violence you keep me save. Praise be the LORD,' I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies (emphasis added).

Question: The description "horn of my salvation" is applied to God in 2 Samuel 22:3 and in the Psalms (i.e., see Ps 18:3) but to whom does Zechariah direct his reference to "horn"?
Answer: Zechariah's reference is to a descendant of King David who will bring a future salvation to God's people "to the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary.

The horn for our salvation within the house of David that Zechariah speaks of is the future Messiah for whom John will prepare the way (verses 76-77). In the repeated language of salvation in verses 69 and 76 there is Davidic covenant imagery. Verses 68-75 show a deliberate shift to the past tense in speaking of the images of the Exodus liberation and the Davidic covenant promises and then moves into the future tense in verse 76 when Zechariah begins his prophecy concerning his son, John.

Luke 1:71, 74-75 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.....74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Twice Zechariah speaks of God's mercy in rescuing His people from their enemies in a passage that has echoes of the Exodus liberation, the Davadic covenant and the age of the prophets (verses 68-75). Salvation from enemies was a repeated promise God made to His people "the enemies of God's people are His enemies. If God's people are obedient to His commands given through His covenant representative, God promised: If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes (Ex 23:22). See, for example, the promises concerning victory over enemies made to Abraham (Gen 14:20; 22:17), to Israel in the Exodus journey (Ex 23:27; Lev 26:8; Num 10:9; Dt 6:19) and in the promises associated with taking possession of the Promised Land (Josh 21:44), and the promises to the prophets (Ps 18:4/3, 49/48; Is 26:11; Zeph 3:15). The promise of salvation from all "the enemies" of the people of God and all "who hate" God's people that Zechariah mentions is not limited to social or political actions of God on behalf of His people. Those temporal acts of salvation moved forward God's ultimate plan for man's salvation that led to the promise of eternal salvation in the of victory over the great enemy of all mankind "Satan; as St. John the Apostle wrote Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil (see 1 Jn 3:8b).

In the second half of his benediction in verses 76-79, Zechariah identifies his son John as the last of the Old Covenant prophets and acknowledges the one he precedes (Mary's son) as the Lord God (verse 76-77). Zechariah's prophetic description of his son is related to the angel's announcement in Luke 1:15-17, when Gabriel also spoke of St. John's role as the precursor to the Messiah. However, Zechariah's prophecy is not only reminiscent of the prophecies of Malachi 3:1 and 23-24/4:3-5 but also of Isaiah 40:3. Speaking of his son as the prophet promised by the prophet Malachi who will come to prepare the people for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah, Zechariah says: And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. That a prophet will come to "prepare the way for the Lord" was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord ..."(Is 40:3), and it is announced that this prophecy is fulfilled in St. John in the Gospels when this passage is quoted by the Gospel writers to announce the beginning of John's mission (Mt 3:1; Mk 1:2-3; Lk 3:4-6; Jn 1:23).

Question: How will Jesus bring salvation to His people through the forgiveness of their sins? Who has the power to forgive sins? See Mt 9:6; Mk 2:7, 10-11; Lk 5:21, 24.
Answer: Only God has the power to forgive sins (Mk 2:7); because Jesus is God, He has that power (Mk 2:10).

Question: How does Zechariah define salvation in verses 77-78? How do verses 77-78 recall the promise of a New Covenant by the prophet Jeremiah (see Jer 31:31-34)?
Answer: Zechariah defines salvation in terms of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, reflecting the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Zechariah's statement that his son will give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins recalls the prophet Jeremiah's prophetic promise: The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah... No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more (Jer 31:31, 34).

Also see Is 42:6; 49:6; 60:1 and 19. The focus of St. John's ministry is mentioned by the angel and by Zechariah to be among God's covenant people (see Lk 1:16 and 1:77), but the repentance of the people in turning away from disobedience and back to God mentioned by the angel (1:17) is expressed by Zechariah as the "knowledge" or experience of salvation that comes through repentance that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. These are Old Covenant concepts expressed in Psalms 130:7-8 and elsewhere in Scripture where redemption and salvation is rooted in God's "tender mercy" (verse 78). Psalms 130:7-8 NJB expresses this concept: let Israel look for the LORD, for with the LORD is kindness [hesed], with him is full redemption, and God will redeem Israel from all their sins (Green, page 118, note 46). correlating "redemption and forgiveness" like Luke 1:76-79. In the Greek translation, the Hebrew word "hesed" (faithful covenant love) is translated splagchnon eleos; the same Greek words found in Zechariah's expression of "tender mercy" in verse 78. Green notes that these words appear in the exact middle of this passage as they do in the exact middle of Psalms 130:6-8 (Green, page 118).

Luke 1:78-79 ... because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us 79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Question: Who is Zechariah referring to in these verses? Who is "the daybreak from on high"? From where is God's "tender mercy" coming from and what will be the result?
Answer: The "daybreak from on high" is God's agent of redemption "the Messiah. He will bring the mercy of God when He visits and light to those who are in the darkness of ignorance and deadly sin. He will guide those He visits to peace with God.

"Light" occurs as a metaphor of God's Divine Presence frequently in the Old Testament (i.e., Ex 13:21; Ps 27:1; 36:9; etc.), and as a metaphor for the enlightenment of the knowledge of salvation (i.e., Ps 107:9-10; Is 2:5; 9:2; 42:7; 60:1-3; Jer 31:33-34; Mic 7:8; Bar 5:9).

Zechariah's last prophecy is an echo of the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-6/8:23-9:7 which begins: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. And ends: His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this! The first part of this passage is quoted by St. Matthew as one of his fulfillment statements (Mt 4:12-16).

It is also significant that three times in the Septuagint (LXX) translation the Greek word used in verse 78 for "daybreak" (anatole) is substituted for the word "branch" (tsemach/semah) in the Hebrew text (sometimes translated "Shoot" or "Scion" in English translations but referring to the Messiah). "Branch," as we have mentioned, is a Messianic title, as it is used in those three passages (see the LXX and the Hebrew translation of Jer 23:5; Zec 3:8; 6:12). It is therefore possible that in Hebrew (the language of the clergy) or the common spoken language of Aramaic during this historical period that Zechariah might have said "by which the Branch from on high will visit us..." (see note on Lk 1:78, NAB study edition, page 100; Fitzmyer, page 387; Green,, page 119).

Scholars who support the theory that Zechariah's Benedictus was likely an early Jewish-Christian hymn that predates Luke's Gospel believe their theory can be demonstrated in the use of three key words in Zechariah's hymn of praise that, if translated into Hebrew would read:

  1. zakar = "to remember"
  2. hanan = "merciful"
  3. sheba/saba = "oath"

When verses 72-73 are translated from the Greek back into Hebrew, each of the root words of the names of Zekaryah (zekar/zakar), Yehohanan/Yohannan (hanan) and Eliseba (sheba/seba) are present in the translated text:

...to show mercy [hanan] to our fathers = Yehohanan (Yohanan)/John

And to be mindful [literally, to remember = zekar/zakar] his holy covenant = Zekaryah/Zechariah

And of the oath [seba] he swore to Abraham our father ... = Eliseba/Elizabeth

These scholars propose that the wordplay between the names of the three people in the family of Zechariah and the use of the Hebrew root words for their names in Zechariah's benediction is too strong to ignore. Hebrew was the language of the priesthood while Aramaic was the common language and Greek the international language.

Luke 1:80 The child grew and became strong in spirit and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

That John was in the desert until the beginning of his public mission to Israel recalls the Isaiah 40:3 prophecy: A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord ..." that is quoted in the Gospels at the beginning of John's ministry (Mt 3:3; Mk 1:2-3; Lk 3:4-6; Jn 1:23). Verse 80 also raises the question as to why John did not continue to live in the town of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Did his elderly parents die and was John then raised in the Judean wilderness? Some historians have suggested that John was raised at the religious community of Qumran located near the Dead Sea on the northwestern side. It is very near the site where John began his ministry on the east side of the Jordan River, and documents from the community mention that they often took in the orphaned sons of priests.

After Moses, the cycle of Old Testament prophets began with Elijah. In John the Holy Spirit completes the cycle of prophets and concludes His revelation through St. John: He is the "voice" of the Consoler who is coming. As the Spirit of truth will also do, John "came to bear witness to the light." In John's sight the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels... (CCC 719).<

Chapter 2

But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times.
Micah 5:1

(Ephrathites were the Judahite clan that settled in Bethlehem; it was the clan of Naomi and Boaz, ancestors of King David and Jesus (see Ruth 1:2 and 1 Sam 17:12).

Luke 2:1-14 ~ The birth of Jesus
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10 The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

See the document "Dating the Birth of Jesus" in the Documents section of the website. Luke begins Jesus' birth narrative with the phrase: "In those days." It is a phrase St. Luke uses frequently (i.e. see 2:1; 4:2; 5:35; 6:12; 9:36; 21:23; 23:7; Acts 1:15; 2:18; 6:1; 9:37; 11:27; 21:15 etc.). He sets the historical time for Jesus' birth during the reign of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (29/27 BC - 14 AD) and when Quirinius was governor of the Roman province of Syria. An influential Roman senator named Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was born in the early 50's BC and died in 21 AD. According to existing historical data, he was the governor of Syria in 6/7 AD. The Jewish historian Josephus records that when the Romans deposed Herod's son Archelaus, Judea was annexed to the province of Syria and Quirinius (Cyrenius/Kyrenius in Greek) was sent to be the Roman legate of Syria-Judea. At that time the new governor was commanded by the Roman Senate to take a census (Antiquities of the Jews, 17.13.5-18.1.1; for other references to this Roman see 17.8.4; The Jewish Wars, 7.8.1). An inscription that was found in Aleppo, Syria confirms it. The date is wrong for Luke's narrative which is taking place prior to King Herod's death in what is probably 3/2 BC. However, Luke makes a point of stating the tax enrollment was the first during Quirinius' rule, suggesting that there were two such enrollments and that Quirinius served two terms as governor. Historically we only have a record of one enrollment, but this does not mean that an earlier enrollment did not take place ""absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" as continuing archaeological discoveries confirms.

Luke 2:3-5 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Historians are uncertain why Joseph would have felt compelled to take his wife, in the advanced state of pregnancy, to Bethlehem for the census. There is no documentary evidence that the Romans required enrollment to take place in the town of one's birth. Joseph's decision to take Mary to Nazareth could have been because that was his permanent home while living in Nazareth had been temporary, or perhaps there was a requirement to be enrolled in Bethlehem because they were both descendants of King David. The Romans kept a close account of all those who might be the focus of a popular revolt based on a connection with a former ruler.(2) It may also have been Joseph's and Mary's decision that Jesus must be born in the city of David to fulfill the prophecies associated with the birth of the Messiah or they may have been divinely instructed about fulfilling the prophecies.

Question: What has been the significance of the town of Bethlehem in salvation history? See Rt 1:2; 4:13, 21-22; 1 Sam 17:12; Is 7:14; 11:1-5 and Mic 5:1.
Answer: The very small town of Bethlehem is where most of the story of the Book of Ruth takes place. The Judahite clan of Ephrathah settled in Bethlehem, and it was the clan of Naomi's husband and his kinsman Boaz. Ruth and Boaz were the great-grandparents of King David who was born there. David was the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed and the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz. David became the most beloved king of ancient Israel, and according to the prophets, it was from the ancient Davidic dynasty in the town of Bethlehem that the Messiah was to be born.

Luke 2:6a While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. The "firstborn" was the title of rank and birth order for the first male child born to a woman who had never previously had children. A firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord according to the Sinai Covenant (Ex 13:1-2; 11b; Num 3:13) and was due the dignity and rights of his title as "firstborn."

In giving birth to Jesus it is the Church's teaching that Mary retained her virginity:

Luke 2:6b She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Greek word in this passage is kataluma which usually means "room" (see Lk 22:11 and in the LXX 1 Sam 1:18 and 9:22) rather than inn, which is in Greek pandocheion (see Lk 10:34). If the house was crowded with other members of Joseph's family, all the rooms of the house may have been filled and there wasn't a separate space suitable to receive Mary. Childbirth made a space ritually unclean and any person who came in contact with the bedding used during birth also became ritually unclean (see Lev 12:1-4; Lk 2:22). This was probably the reason Joseph made use of what Christian tradition tells us was a cave where animals were kept "using an animal stall for the birthing room and placing the newborn baby Jesus in a manger (see the Protoevangelium of James; the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem is built above a cave that is believed to be the birth place of Jesus).

Question: What is ironic about baby Jesus being placed in a manger where animals were fed?
Answer: One day Jesus was destined to become where all men and women of faith were to come to be fed and spiritually nourished from His resurrected Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

Luke 2:8-10 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10 The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

In the Magnificat, Mary praised God for raising up the lowly (1:52). In the first century BC-1 AD no group except tanners were lower than shepherds in Judean society. They were constantly in a state of ritual impurity because of their profession "anyone who was ritually impure could not worship in the Temple until they had become ritually purified. Shepherds could not even give testimony in court (Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 311). And yet, God chose a group of shepherds, perhaps the very shepherds who were keeping the herd of Tamid lambs that was kept in the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, to be the first to witness the coming of their Redeemer-Messiah.

Question: What other shepherds played a significant role in salvation history?
Answer: Abel, Jacob, Moses (in Midian), the prophet Amos, and David as a boy.

In Scripture the "shepherd" is a positive image:

Luke 2:11-12 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

Do not miss the irony Luke provides that God the Son is being born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (Lk 2:1). Augustus, the grandnephew and heir of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman emperor after the death of the Roman Republic and the beginning of Rome's imperial period. He officially ruled from 27 BC to his death in 14 AD. According to inscriptions, Augustus was declared the Empire's "savior" by establishing a prolonged time of peace, the "pax Augusta." Augustus was divinized upon his death and was declared a "god" by the Roman Senate. The irony is that the true Son of God, the true Savior of the world who is bringing mankind peace with God (Lk 2:14) is born during the era of the false savior and false god.

Question: The angel Gabriel gave a sign to Zechariah and Mary signifying the truth of his words. Now the gathering of angels gives what sign to the shepherds?
Answer: The finding the child in the manger is the sign.

Luke 2:13-14 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

In his Benedictus, Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would lead the people to peace with God: ..to guide our feet into the path of peace (Lk 1:79) and now the angels echo his prophecy.

Question: The heavenly choir sings praise to God and pronounces a blessing "for who is the blessing intended? Is it for all men and women?
Answer: The blessing is not for the rebellious and disobedient but is for those who recognize God's sovereignty over their lives and therefore find "favor" with God.

From the announcement of the precursor, to the Incarnation, after the ordeal of the Temptation, in the Garden of Agony, at the Resurrection and Ascension, Christ is surrounded by the service and adoration of angels— "Let all the angels of God worship him" (Heb 1:6). The Church continues the angels' song of praise to the Savior in her liturgy when the congregation of the faithful joins with the angels, singing: "Glory to God in the highest!" (see CCC 333).

Luke 2:15-20 ~ The visit of the Shepherds
15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Finding the "sign" of the child in the manger, the humble shepherds are the first to proclaim the Gospel "the "good news" that the Messiah has come as He was promised.

As Mary witnesses the fulfillment of what the angel Gabriel told her, she reflected on the events as they have unfolded and what will happen in the future. She knows this is only the beginning of a journey that will change the course of human history. Luke uses Mary's contemplation to call the reader to also contemplate the meaning of these events "not just in the lives of Mary and those who were present at Christ's birth, but to contemplate what these events mean to the reader personally.

Luke 2:21-24 ~ Jesus' circumcision, naming and His presentation at the Temple
21 When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord," 24 and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord (underlining added).

Jesus coming with Joseph and Mary to the Temple can be seen as a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1b: And suddenly there will come to the Temple the LORD whom you seek ... The circumcision and naming is another link to the narrative of St. John's birth and more evidence of the obedience of Mary and Joseph, just as Elizabeth and Zechariah were obedient in the naming of their child.

Luke 2:22-23 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to represent him to the Lord, >23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,"

Women who gave birth to male children were required to observe forty days of ritual confinement after which they were to present themselves at the Temple for purification: The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites: When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled (Lev 12:1-4).

When the period of purification was completed, the new mother went to the Temple of Yahweh in the holy city of Jerusalem. She bathed in the Temple ritual purification pool (mikvah) and presented a whole burnt offering and a sin sacrifice to the Lord (Lev 12:6-7). If the child was a firstborn male, the woman was required to dedicate him to God: "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated [or holy] to the Lord," as Luke quotes in verse 23 from Exodus 13:2. This is just one of the ways in which the prophecy of the angel Gabriel is fulfilled when he told Mary her Son will be called "holy" in Luke 1:35. Mary and Joseph, with the forty day old baby Jesus, journeyed the c. five miles from Bethlehem (located south of Jerusalem on the east ridge of the mountain watershed) up the mountain to Jerusalem, situated on a ridge about 2400 miles above sea level.

Luke 2:24 ... and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Luke will use the term "law of the Lord" or "Law of Moses nine times in the Greek text; five of those times appear in this chapter (Lk 2:22, 23, 24, 27, 39; 10:26; 16:16-17; 24:44).

Question: What does the sacrifice tell us about the Holy Family? See Lev 12:6-8?
Answer: The sacrifice identifies their humble station; it was the sacrifice of the poor.

Luke 2:25-38 ~ The prophetic statements of Simeon and Anna
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27 He came in the Spirit into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: 29 "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." 33 The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the Temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

Question: In what four ways does St. Luke describe Simeon?
Answer: He is righteous, devout, actively awaiting the coming of the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit was upon him

Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon is described as "righteous" and he is also described as "devout." Luke defined "righteous" as "observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly" (Lk 1:6) and "devout" in the same way as "a devout observer of the Law (Acts 22:12). Simeon is a prophet and his part in the infancy narrative is prophetic.

Question: What is the role of God's Spirit in Simeon's life?
Answer:

  1. He has the Spirit upon him (verse 25)
  2. He receives revelations from the Spirit (verse 26)
  3. He comes to the Temple "in the Spirit" (verse 27)

Luke 2:28-32 ... he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: 29 "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."

The Holy Family was in the outer court when Simeon approached them. St. Luke uses the Greek term hieron, which includes the whole of the Temple complex and not the inner court and Sanctuary (naos) that is accessible only to priests. An individual, including a woman, could enter the inner court where the altar of sacrifice stood only if she was offering a sacrifice.

Simeon's prayer of praise is called in Latin the Nunc Dimittis and is divided into two parts and is followed by a prophecy for Mary:

  1. The fulfillment of God's promise to Simeon
  2. The prophecy of a universal salvation

Having been told that he will live until he has seen the Messiah, Simeon now identifies Jesus as the promised Redeemer-Messiah not just for Israel but for all nations, proclaiming a universal message of salvation. Addressing God and using the prophetic language of Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6 from the "Song of the Servant" passages of Isaiah, it is the child Jesus who Simeon identifies as "your salvation." This declaration may also suggest wordplay on Jesus' name: "Yahweh is salvation."

Luke 2:33-38 The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

After blessing Joseph and Mary, Simeon offers a prophecy of opposition and suffering for Mary

Question: What does Simeon's prophecy concerning Jesus suggest when he says this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted? What is ominous about the prophecy?
Answer: The child will create opposition and people will be divided over their response to Him. It is an ominous prediction because the "falling" comes before the "rising." Simeon has announced the rejection of the Messiah by His own people.

Mary also used the rising and falling imagery in reverse in the Magnificat when she spoke of God lifting up the lowly and throwing down the rulers from their thrones (verse 52). Jesus will speak of the division over His mission when He says that He did not come to bring peace but division "there can be no middle ground in response to His message (see Mt 10:34-36; Lk 12:51-53).

And then turning to Mary, Simeon said: and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

Simeon prophesies that Mary will share in her Son's suffering. The Cross is Jesus' unique sacrifice and is a sacrifice He asks all His disciples to embrace as His partners in the plan of redemption (see Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; 10:21; Lk 9:23; 14:27). ...Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering (CCC 618). As the embodiment of the "daughter of Zion," Mary will live out the sorrow of her people in their struggle to come to terms with Jesus' mission. The symbolic mention of the sword may be related to the prophecies in Ezekiel 14:7-8 and Zechariah 12:10.

Luke 2:36-38 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the Temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

The proclamation of the Gospel has begun "Simeon and Anna the prophetess have recognized the Messiah and have begun to announce His coming to His people. This is the third righteous man/woman combination in the birth narrative: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and now Simeon and Anna. God has always used righteous men and women to move forward His plan for mankind's salvation.

Luke 2:39-40 ~ The Holy Family returns to Nazareth
39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him.

Verse 40 is the conclusion of Jesus' birth narrative and echoes the description of St. John in 1:80: The child grew and became strong in spirit ...

Question: In the previous lesson we compared the similarities between the angel Gabriel's birth announcements to Zechariah and Mary. Now compare the similarities St. Luke deliberately places in in the continuing narrative of John and Jesus' births in Luke 1:39-2:40.
Answer:

John's Birth Jesus' birth
As prophesied, John was born: The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son (Lk 1:57). As prophesied, Jesus was born: ... the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born (Lk 2:6).
There was joy over the birth (Lk 1:58). There was joy over the birth (Lk 2:13-18).
John was circumcised and named on the 8th day (Lk 1:59-60).

Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day (Lk 2:21).

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke praise, thanksgiving and prophecy in the Benedictus (Lk 1:67-79). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Simeon spoke praise and prophecy in the Nunc dimittis (2:29-32) and Anna thanked God (Lk 2:36-38).
John's birth story concludes with the assurance that God's hand was upon the child: ...the child grew up and his spirit grew strong (Lk 1:80). Jesus' birth story concludes with the assurance that God's hand was upon the child: And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God's favor was with him (Lk 2:40).
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

Luke 2:41-52 ~ the boy Jesus teaches in the Temple
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42 and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. 43 After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." 49 And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread took place during an eight-day period in the early spring as a memorial of the Exodus redemption (Ex chapter 12; Lev 23:4-14; Num 28:16-25). The feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-21st ) began at sundown on the day of the Passover sacrifice and was one of the three "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the covenant who was thirteen years and older was required to appear before God's altar with his sacrifices (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16-17; 1 Chr 8:13).(3) In the first century AD, the two feasts were celebrated as though they were one feast (8 days) and were referred to simply as "the Passover." It was a joyous time and many families made the journey to Jerusalem, like the Holy Family on this occasion.

Question: For how many days was the boy Jesus missing? What is the significance of the number of days?
Answer: Jesus was missing for three days in Jerusalem, as He will be missing on the three days between His crucifixion and Resurrection. "Finding" Jesus on the third day prefigures the events of Easter.

Question: Where did Joseph and Mary find Jesus?
Answer: At the Temple conversing with the teachers of the Law.

Jesus was "in the midst" of the teachers. The Greek text of this part of the narrative from verse 41 to 52 has 170 words. It is interesting that the Greek word for "in the midst" is in the exact middle of the narrative—it is word # 85 (Bovan, page 109).

As time passed and Jesus grew up like any child his parents may have begun to take His promised mission for granted. This episode reminded them that their son was indeed the Son of God and that He knew His true identity and His destiny. This is the first manifestation that Jesus was conscious of being "the Son" as He confirms in Joseph's presence that God is His Father.

Luke 2:51 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

Jesus was obedient to the commandment to honor His earthly parents (Ex 20:12). That Mary contemplated these events probably means that she did so in terms of what had been revealed to her in the past and what was likely to unfold in the future according to the prophecy she had received and the teaching of the prophets (see 2:19). Her continuing thoughtful contemplation shows her appreciation of God's Divine plan and her part in it.

Luke 2:52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

This verse echoes 2:40 where Luke writes that Jesus "grew to maturity" and "he was filled with wisdom and God's favor was with him."

Questions for reflection or group discussion:

Question: What are the four Marian dogmas that a Catholic must believe? See CCC 490-93, 495, 499-501, 966. Check you answer on the Agape Bible Study website: The Four Marian Dogmas

Question: What are some of the titles by which the Church honors the Virgin Mary? See CCC 411, 963-70, 466, 495, 509, 494, 511 and 411.

Endnotes:

1. In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, eight it is the number of salvation, resurrection, and new birth/regeneration. It also signified the first of a new series; where for example there are seven days in a week, the 8th day is the beginning of a new series of days. Jesus' Resurrection on the eighth day (Sunday), the day after the seventh day Old Covenant Sabbath, will signify the beginning of a New Covenant. In addition, the descent of God the Holy Spirit on the eighth day (Sunday) 50 days later will signify a spiritual rebirth of the New Covenant people of God (see the document "The Significance of numbers in Scripture").

2. Bishop Eusebius records that the Roman Emperor Domitian commanded that the descendants of King David be killed. His agents sought out and found two men who were kinsmen of Jesus (grandsons of St. Jude ) and descendants of King David and had them brought to him for questioning. When he determined that they were simple villagers and no threat, he had them released. However, during the reign of Trajan several descendants of David from Jesus' family were arrested and killed, including Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem (Church History, xix.1-8; xxxii.1-6).

3. Lk 2:41-50: Joachim Jeremias writes ... the Talmud speaks of thirteen years as the border-line for the fulfillment of the law. Luke 2:42 is not in contradiction with this rule; the twelve-year-olds were brought on the pilgrimage in order to get them used to the event which would become a duty the next year (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 76).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for Luke chapter 2 (* indicates Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

2:6-7

525*

2:32

713*

2:7

515*

2:34

575, 587*

2:8-20

4868, 525*

2:35

149*, 618*

2:8-14

333*

2:38

711*

2:10

333

2:41-52

534*

2:11

437, 448*, 695*

2:41

583*

2:14

333, 559*, 725*

2:46-49

583*

2:19

2599*

2:48-49

503*

2:21

527*

2:49

2599

2:22-39

529*, 583*

2:51-52

531

2:25

711*

2:51

517*, 2196, 2599*

2:26-27

695*

2:52

472