Connections 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

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Luke 2:8-20

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me.

God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them.

And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped. He has to learn to walk and talk. He has to be potty trained. The Son of God has to have his messy diapers changed.

He is born to insignificant peasants who belong to insignificant families in an insignificant town in an insignificant time in an insignificant country.

His parents are away from home, forced to be there by imperial manipulation, when his mother goes into labor. The Son of God is born in a stable. His crib is a feed trough. The place smells of animals and reeks of oppression.

Emerson-White Hours, Annunciation to the Shepherds, tempera on parchment (Wikimedia Commons).

His first visitors are shepherds, straight from the field. They say an angel told them about it. They say a swarm of angels sang about it. They can quote what the angels said. Shepherds. Angels. Shepherd and angels, together.

Yes, the whole thing is ridiculous. There’s no way around it.

But it’s also wonderful.

Maybe we’d better experience the wonder of Christmas if we’d live in ridiculous ways that reflect the ridiculousness of the event.

At the very least, that means being the people of God—being the body of Christ—in the world in ways that turn its values and priorities upside down. It means doing things like embracing humility instead of pursuing power, celebrating service instead of admiring celebrity, and seeking peace instead of making war.

Yeah, I know. That’s ridiculous.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Discussion

1. Why did God announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds first?
2. The shepherds went to Bethlehem “with haste” (v. 16). How anxious are we to experience Jesus?
3. So far as we know, the shepherds remained shepherds after this experience. What does that tell us about the context within which we should live out our relationship with Jesus?
4. Jesus is the long-anticipated Messiah of Israel. Why then is his birth “good news of great joy for all the people” (v. 10)?
5. When the shepherds reported what the angel had told them about the baby, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (v. 19). Mary had heard from an angel herself (Lk 1:26-38). What do her actions teach us about how we can grow in our faith? About listening to and learning from others? About adding other people’s experiences to ours in order to gain better understanding?

Reference Shelf

For whom is this peace promised? Verse 14 says it is for either “men of good will” or “men of favor” (anthrøpois eudokias). The latter translation, which has the better support, means persons upon whom divine favor rests. The gospel mentions two occasions when recipients of divine favor are specified. In the first instance, Jesus, after his baptism, is addressed as “my beloved Son, in [whom] I take delight (eudøkesa): Jesus is the object of divine favor. In the second, 12:32, Jesus says to his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure (eudøkesen) to give you the kingdom”: here Jesus’ disciples are the objects of divine favor. Hence, it is among Jesus and his disciples that there is peace among humans. Here is where the wholeness of the basic relations of life is being recovered as a result of Jesus’ birth and lordship. This is cause for joy.

This good news, moreover, is for “all the people” (v. 10), outcast as well as in-group. In Luke’s time shepherds were often considered outside the law. Their testimony was considered invalid because of their reputation for dishonesty (b. Sanhedrin 25b). Yet it was to such as these the angel announced the good news of the Savior’s birth (2:8-11). This can only be regarded as a foreshadowing of the subsequent theme of God’s grace shown to sinners that runs throughout Luke. The messianic Lord is the friend of sinners (e.g., 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 10:30-37; 15:1-2; 17:11-19; 19:1-10). It is to sinners Jesus promises good news (e.g., 18:9-14; 15:11-32). The news that Jesus’ birth signals the benefit of peace is intended for all the people. This is cause for great joy.

The angelic choir not only sang about the recovery of wholeness among the disciples of Jesus, a benefit available to all, but it also spoke of glory to God being a benefit of Jesus’ birth and rule as Lord. Psalm 85:8-9, just as Luke 2:14, connects God’s being glorified with peace among his people.

How is this to be understood? Since peace is God’s gift, it reflects to God’s credit that wholeness is being recovered among human beings. The recovery of wholeness in human relationships, which is due to God’s acts in Jesus, reflects honor to God. In other words, what is good for human beings glorifies God; what glorifies God is good for human beings. Glorifying God and recovering human wholeness are not mutually exclusive: they are an indissoluble whole. When the angels sang of the benefits of Jesus’ lordship, they sang both “glory to God” and “peace to men”—one song, heralding a dual benefit of Messiah’s birth. That is good news of a great joy.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary, rev. ed. (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 35-36.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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