25.12.2019 — The last in the census is the Lord of the History

The Nativity of the Lord, Wednesday – 25th December 2019 — Gospel: Lk 2,1-14 (Midnight)

The last in the census is the Lord of the History

Caesar Augustus was the sole superpower of the time, whose decree for a universal census serves as a divine purpose. Luke mentions this to set his story of the birth of Christ in the secular context (3,1) and significantly highlights the census for ‘the entire world’ (2,1). For the evangelist, census means that Jesus will be born where Israel’s Messiah should be born: in David’s city, Bethlehem. He sees both the birth of Jesus and the action of the emperor in far-away Rome in the context of the universal history of mankind. In presenting this, he sets forward how the history of this world is at the service of the plan of salvation devised by God. Jesus Christ enters the world not only in fulfillment of the prophecies of the people of Israel, but as the fulfillment of the expectation of the whole world. In the Bible, census is the symbol of human pride, of wanting to have supreme control (2 Sam 24,1-9). But here the census becomes instrumental in the design of God for the salvation of man.

We can also see here God’s providence and guidance of the events of the world. God is the Lord of history and uses the events of history to fulfill the plan of salvation which he has devised for man. Apparently Caesar Augustus had power over all the peoples and moves the whole world with his edict. In reality he is only an instrument of a superior power and is only executing a plan which transcends him and of which he is ignorant. Jesus is the real king and ruler of the whole world and not Augustus. Yet baby Jesus, which lies in the manger, is enrolled as the last one in the list along with Joseph and Mary.

Luke describes rather briefly the actual event of the birth of Jesus (2,6-7) and expands at length this birth announcement to the shepherds (2,8-14). While the birth of Jesus is the central episode of the whole infancy narrative, yet it is described with utmost simplicity. Mary gives birth to her child outside the town and lays him in a manger. This “visitor from on high” (1,78) could find no room, no hospitality in his own city. His birth takes place on the margins, beginning a pattern to be realized over and over in his life and ministry. The poor shepherds of Bethlehem will be the first to experience it. Luke describes the birth of Jesus without any sentiments, or fantastic details, or legendary imagination. In picturing this joyous announcement in simplistic form, the evangelist highlights that the “Word of God” becoming man and entering into human history, coming to reconcile heaven and earth to enable human beings to share the life of God already in this world, is something so immense and ineffable that human language cannot express it adequately.