The Birth of Jesus.[a] 1 In those days, a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus that a census should be taken throughout the entire world. 2 This was the first such registration, and it took place when Quirinius[b] was governor of Syria.
3 Everyone traveled to his own town to be enrolled. 4 Joseph therefore went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting a 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,[c] because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the nearby countryside there were shepherds living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock throughout the night. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terror-stricken, 10 but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. 11 For this day in the city of David there has been born to you a Savior who is Christ, the Lord.
12 “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 with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to all those on whom his favor rests.”[d]
15 The Visit of the Shepherds. After the angels had departed from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Come, let us go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And so they set off in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
17 When they saw the child, they recounted the message that had been told them about him. 18 All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 As for Mary, she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.
21 The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.[e]On the eighth day, when the time for the child’s circumcision had arrived, he was given the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived in the womb.
22 Jesus Is Presented in the Temple. When the days for their purification were completed according to the Law of Moses, they brought the child up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 as it is prescribed in the Law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24 and to offer a sacrifice in accordance with what is stated in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 The Prophecy of Simeon. At that time, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This upright and devout man was awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
27 Prompted by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was required by the Law, 28 he took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples,
32 a light of revelation to the Gentiles
and glory for your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, 35 so that the secret thoughts of many will be revealed, and you yourself a sword will pierce.”
36 The Witness of Anna. There was also present a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very advanced in years, having lived with her husband for seven years after their marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment, she came forward and began to praise God, while she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
39 The Return to Nazareth. When they had fulfilled everything required by 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 God’s favor was upon him.
41 The Boy Jesus in the Temple.[f] Every year his parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. 42 And when Jesus was twelve years old, they made the journey as usual for the feast. 43 When the days of the feast were over and they set off for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents were not aware of this. 44 Assuming that he was somewhere in the group of travelers, they journeyed for a day. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends, 45 but when they failed to find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, where he was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and his answers. 48 When they 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 searching for you with great anxiety.” 49 Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not comprehend what he said to them.
51 Jesus Grows in Wisdom and Grace. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was obedient to them. His mother pondered all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men.
- Luke 2:1 The Gospel of Jesus’ birth is perhaps the best known passage of the Bible.
The birth of Jesus is described both as parallel to and in contrast with the birth of John. For lack of room in the inn, the young mother looks to a stable for an unobtrusive retreat in which to give birth to her son. Beginning in the 2nd century, the place was said to be a cave close to Bethlehem. She had a manger in which to lay the child.
Apart from Mary and Joseph, there were no relatives or friends present to welcome this child: only a few shepherds, people who lived on the margins of society and whose trade was at that time severely criticized and despised by the teachers of the Law.
The passage is full of grand ideas about faith; we may say also that it is rich in theology. The birth is described as the coming of the Messianic child. We are in Bethlehem, the native city of David who founded a royal and Messianic dynasty and who marked, as it were, a new beginning (1 Sam 16:1f; Mic 5:1). God bursts into the midst of the poor, proclaiming joy and peace for the whole world.
The event went unnoticed by the chroniclers of the age, and yet it changed the destiny of the human race. In order to bring out its universal significance, Luke locates it in relation to the history of the world: Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.) is still in power; Augustus (29 B.C.–A.D. 14) has imposed Roman rule on the entire Mediterranean world, “the entire world” (Greek: oikumenê) known at the time (v. 1). But the general census that Augustus has ordered is the instrument of providence for fulfilling the prophecies, since it leads to Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (v. 4).
A 6th-century monk, Dionysius Exiguus (“Little Denis”), wanted to mark the beginning of the Christian year, but he miscalculated and dated the birth of Jesus as occurring in the year 754 from the foundation of Rome (instead of 6–7 years earlier). But the mistake is of little importance, for Dionysius’ insight was correct: this event, more than any other, deserves to date the history of humanity, for it is the hinge on which all of history turns.
- Luke 2:2 Quirinius: Publius Quirinius, legate of Syria, conducted a census of Palestine in A.D. 6, ten years after the death of Herod the Great. The information we have does not allow us to decide whether Luke is referring to this census or to another.
- Luke 2:7 Manger: the legend of the ass and the cattle at the manger was perhaps suggested by Isa 1:3.
- Luke 2:14 On whom his favor rests: some read “to men of goodwill,” but it seems better not to contrast God’s peace and human goodwill.
- Luke 2:21 This section describes the Jewish rites associated with a birth. In addition to circumcision, forty days after the birth Jewish parents celebrated the rites of purification and ransoming, which in the context of the ancient religion represented a respect for life and a sense of the sacred (see Ex 13:2; Lev 12:2-8; Num 18:15-16). This child, who is bought back with the offering of the poor, is the Messiah and has come to carry out the mission entrusted to the Servant as foretold in the great prophetic songs of Isaiah (42:6; 49:6; 52:10): to save all of humankind, to bring light to all peoples.
Some hearts are already drawn by the joyous conviction that the prophecies are fulfilled, and the hymn of the elderly prophet Simeon is, despite its brevity, among the richest of Christian canticles. But who can recognize the mission of the Messiah unless they accept the light of God? That mission elicits hostility; and Mary will experience the repercussions of the Savior’s painful lot, because faith in the Savior will bring to light the deep religion of hearts and put an end to the legalism of Judaism.
- Luke 2:41 In the village where Jesus spends his apprenticeship as a human being and grows “in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men (v. 52),” this favor of God did not prevent him from sharing the life lived by everyone else. Then a significant event interrupted the course of everyday life.
Jesus had reached the age when a Jewish boy had completed his religious instruction and was beginning to observe the precepts of the Law; he was recognized as religiously mature. Therefore, he joined his parents in the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In this passage we find him in the temple in open discussion with those charged with teaching the Law. What he has to say reveals an extraordinary religious vision. In acting as he does, he claims a freedom that surprises his parents.
Thus, at his first encounter with Judaism and its religious center, at the moment when he speaks for the first time, Jesus declares himself Son of God and is aware of his own mystery and of his mission. That is what Luke wants to bring out in this story.
Mary and Joseph are now informed of the boy’s uncommon destiny, but the unexpected thunderbolt of Jesus’ statement confuses them; it utters a mystery that is beyond them.
The Lord is not done with surprising even believers, indeed believers first of all! There are days when we must draw inspiration from the attitude of Mary as she meditates on what God has done.