2 Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.
This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke de-scribes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.
4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.
8 Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. 9 Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!
Messenger: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.
13 At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.
14 Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!
15 As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.
Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!
16 So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, 17 they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. 18 Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. 19 Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Here again is Luke’s fascination with disadvantaged people. Jesus’ first visitors are not ambassadors, dignitaries, or wealthy landowners. The first to pay Him homage are simple shepherds, minimum-wage workers in the ancient agrarian economy. They have little to no status in the world. They are the humble and the poor whom God is now raising up to receive heavenly messages and an audience with the great King. This theme recurs as the story continues.
21 Eight days after His birth, the baby was circumcised in keeping with Jewish religious requirements, and He was named Jesus, the name the messenger had given Him before His conception in Mary’s womb. 22 After Mary had observed the ceremonial days of postpartum purification required by Mosaic law, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. 23 They were fulfilling the Lord’s requirement that “every firstborn Israelite male will be dedicated to the Eternal One as holy.”[a] 24 They also offered the sacrifice required by the law of the Lord, “two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 While fulfilling these sacred obligations at the temple, they encountered a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a just and pious man, anticipating the liberation of Israel from her troubles. He was a man in touch with the Holy Spirit. 26 The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One. 27 The Spirit had led him to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations. 28 Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.
29 Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace.
30 You promised me that I would see with my own eyes
what I’m seeing now: Your freedom,
31 Raised up in the presence of all peoples.
32 He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,
and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.
33 His father and mother were stunned to hear Simeon say these things. 34 Simeon went on to bless them both, and to Mary in particular he gave predictions.
Simeon: Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose. 35 In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even your own soul, Mary.
36 At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died 37 and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. 38 When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem.
39 After fulfilling their sacred duties according to the law of the Lord, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to their own city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee. 40 There Jesus grew up, maturing in physical strength and increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God rested on Him.
41 Every year during Jesus’ childhood, His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. 42 When Jesus was 12, He made the journey with them. 43 They spent several days there, participating in the whole celebration. When His parents left for home, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, but Joseph and Mary were not aware. 44 They assumed Jesus was elsewhere in the caravan that was traveling together. After they had already traveled a full day’s journey toward home, they began searching for Him among their friends and relatives. 45 When no one had seen the boy, Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched for Him.
46 After three days of separation, they finally found Him—sitting among a group of religious teachers in the temple—asking them questions, listening to their answers. 47 Everyone was surprised and impressed that a 12-year-old boy could have such deep understanding and could answer questions with such wisdom.
48 His parents, of course, had a different reaction.
Mary: Son, why have You treated us this way? Listen, Your father and I have been sick with worry for the last three days, wondering where You were, looking everywhere for You.
Jesus: 49 Why did you need to look for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be working for My Father?
Little is recorded about Jesus’ life between His birth and the age of 30. But this one episode tells so much. First, Jesus’ family life is a lot like anyone’s—full of mishaps and misunderstandings. Second, as Jesus enters young adulthood, He begins manifesting an extraordinary sense of identity. (Remember, a 12-year-old isn’t “just a kid” in Israel—he is becoming a man.) He isn’t just “Mary’s boy” or “Joseph’s stepson.” He has a direct relationship with God as His Father, and He knows His life will follow a path of working for God.
50 Neither Mary nor Joseph really understood what He meant by this. 51 Jesus went back to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother continued to store these memories like treasures in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept on growing—in wisdom, in physical stature, in favor with God, and in favor with others.