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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Luke's Christmas Story: The Theme of Poverty

God's compassion for the poor is a central theme of Luke's Christmas story. Consider the elements Luke chose to include in his narrative:
  1. Mary's song stresses that God's heart in sending His Son into the world was to exalt the lowly and care for the hungry (1:30). Mary's Son was coming to bring hope to the poor. 
  2. Mary and Joseph offered birds as their sacrifice after Mary's required time of purification (Luke 2:22-24). This was the sacrifice required of the poor (Leviticus 12:8). God chose to send His Son into the world to a family in poverty.  
  3. Shepherds were God's chosen witnesses for this dramatic event. In first century Israel, shepherds did not rank very high on the social ladder. In those days, at least two groups of people were barred from giving testimony in a court of law. One was shepherds; the other was women. According to a respected source (Strack-Billerbeck)  "Shepherds were despised people. They were suspected of not being very careful to distinguish 'mine' and 'thine'; for this reason, too, they were debarred from giving evidence in court." It is interesting that God chose shepherds to witness the birth of His Son, and women to witness His resurrection. 
  4. Elizabeth was barren, Simeon was elderly, and Anna the prophetess was a widow. Luke consistently portrays God as caring for those the world forgets and often abuses. This may be one reason he omitted the story of the magi. It did not fit his purpose of highlighting God's concern for the poor.  
As a doctor, Luke had a special place in his heart for the sick, the hurting, and the poor. Throughout his Gospel he returns to the theme of Christ's compassion for and elevation of the poor. This in itself was confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah. For it was foretold that the Messiah would "heal the broken-hearted" and "set the captives free." In fact, Luke highlights this passage from Isaiah as the mission statement by which Jesus lived.  

In chapter 4 Luke includes the story of how Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah and read from chapter 61.  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," He read. Luke intentionally connects these opening words to the baptism of Jesus. At His baptism, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit who came upon Him that day (3:22). Jesus was then led by the Spirit into the desert (4:1), returned from the desert in the power of the Spirit (4:14), and then read this text about the Spirit of the Lord being upon Him (4:17). Luke used selection and arrangement to help us see that Jesus was indeed "the Anointed One" which from the Hebrew is "the Messiah" and from the Greek is "the Christ."  

For Luke, the anointing of Jesus is further proof that He is the promised Messiah. But he goes beyond that.  His selection of stories and details point us to the fact that the purpose of the anointing was to heal the broken-hearted and to set the captives free.  

At Christmas time, our hearts should naturally turn toward those who are less fortunate than we are. God places "the poor" in everyone's life so that we can be Jesus to them.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this insight Marcus! All too often we become more selfish at this time because we are a materialistic people. It becomes about what I want. Not what I can give without expecting anything in return.