In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.for you have received your consolation.

The Shepherds and the Angels

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth 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 among those whom he favours!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Jesus Is Named

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

The world at the time of the text

Geography of the text

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

Scholars generally agree that the Gospel according to Luke was written in elegant Greek some 50 years after the death of Jesus, probably in the 80s. The Gospel is the first of two works by the author, its companion volume being the Acts of Apostles. Tradition has given the name of Luke to the author, but there is no certainty that Luke was the author’s name, and if it was, that he was the Luke mentioned in the Acts of Apostles and the Letters of Paul. Luke may have been a Syrian from Antioch. Most scholars conclude from elements in the Gospel that the author was a Gentile writing for a community predominantly made up of Gentile Christians. More details about the Gospel according to Luke can be found HERE.

Each Gospel is a testimony of faith originating out of a Christian community. The author reflects the concerns and issues of the community. In Luke’s predominantly Gentile Christian community, it is likely that the material wealth of some of its members, the poor among and around them and questions of wealth and poverty were issues of debate. These concerns are a characteristic of the Gospel in general and this text in particular.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

The account of Jesus’ birth is recorded only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke’s Infancy Narrative is quite different from Matthew’s in structure and Christological focus. It is important to remember that each author wrote for the particular needs and questions of their audience. As Luke’s community were gentile, one of their key questions was how a Jewish Messiah could be of relevance to them. Not connected to the chosen people, what could Jesus’ life mean for their own? Luke writes to show the ministry of Jesus as one of total inclusion – seen no more effectively than in the Infancy Narrative in the presence of shepherds at the Christ-child’s birth. 

In Luke’s Gospel, Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth in Galilee and are required to travel to Bethlehem in Judea because of a census ordered by the Romans. Whilst in Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to a son, and he is laid in a manger as there was no other place for them. The traditional translation of the Greek word kataluma as ‘inn’ is unhelpful in contemporary understanding. In our day, an inn is an accommodations facility, rather like a motel or hotel. A better sense of the space Luke speaks about is achieved when the word is translated as guest room or guest chamber of the home. This is consistent with the placement of the baby in a manger, a feed bin, as households typically kept animals inside, at least at night.  

Angels announce the birth of the baby to shepherds who are out in the fields keeping watch over their sheep during the night. The shepherds are told to go to Bethlehem to see the baby, “ a Saviour who is the Messiah , the Lord.” When they arrive at the place of the baby’s birth, they find all that then angels had told them.

Eight days after his birth, then baby is given the name ‘Jesus’ and, according to Jewish law,  is circumcised.

Characters & setting

The map shows the location of Nazareth in Galilee and Bethlehem in Judea. The distance between these towns is approximately 157 kms. From Nazareth, Mary and Joseph most likely travelled south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem.

Map of the Israel

Bethlehem: In Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. It was the birthplace of King David and the site where the prophet Samuel anointed David king.

Shepherds: Shepherds were at the very bottom of the Israelite social world. They were considered untouchable, unclean, and not worthy of honour. Shepherds led the sheep out to pasture, provided water and food and kept the flock together. They would round up stray sheep and often slept in front of the gate of the sheepfold to protect the animals from predators.

Angels: Spiritual creatures that serve as God’s messengers, help God’s people, and fight evil. There are different levels of angels identified in the Bible. 

Jesus: The name means to deliver or rescue. After Mary had given birth to Jesus, she wrapped him in cloth bands, sometimes called swaddling clothes. Swaddling was the normal practice of Jewish mothers They were lengthy strips of cloth bound around the child to keep the limbs straight and still. The purpose was to keep them secure and provide stability.

Augustus and Quirinius: Both men were governors of their various lands: their mention gives the text a historical favour. 

Ideas/ phrases/ concepts

Luke writes an account of the birth of Jesus layered with his theology.

Manger: Mary lays the baby Jesus in a manger. A manger was a type of stall or trough where animals were fed. It could be a moveable container or a cavity in the rock of a cave. Jesus will grow to become food for all; inviting people to a table they had previously felt excluded from.

Journey: Jesus is born on a journey. In his lifetime he will welcome all especially those who take momentous journeys. Some will physically ‘come a long way’, others will turn their lives around and journey to a new way of being in the world.  

Inclusion: The birth of the Christ-child is for all, especially those on the margins of society, like shepherds. Jesus’ welcome of all is modelled from the very beginning. 

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

It is generally accepted that Luke was writing for a community of Gentile Christians. His Gospel emphasizes that Jesus is the Saviour, the one who brings God’s salvation to all. Among the theological themes in his writing are the proclamation of good news to the poor and marginalized, and inclusive hospitality. These themes are evident in the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel.

Luke’s Infancy Narrative is not intended to give us an historical account. It presents us with the birth of Jesus in humble circumstances. His birth is announced to shepherds who are very low on the social scale and considered to be unclean yet are made welcome when they visit this child who is ‘the Messiah, the Lord’. God’s kingdom is first revealed in the most unassuming of places to the ‘anawim’. The anawim were the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. 

In our world today,  which is increasingly trending towards secularism, the significance and message of Jesus’ birth is often lost in the busyness of Christmas. For many, Christmas is merely a holiday, without religious meaning. There is little pause even for a few moments to allow the Lord to touch our hearts and for us to contemplate the celebration of God’s ultimate gift: the birth of Jesus, the Christ child who brought hope into the world for all.

Church interpretation & usage

When Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Mass “during the Night” in a near empty Saint Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve in 2020, he said that God came to us at Christmas as a weak and vulnerable Child to teach us how to love. “God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for Him.” 

The heart of Christmas is about love, God’s love. God loves us so much that God gave us the most precious gift imaginable, Jesus. This great and wonderful gift of love calls us to love one another.

“For those who celebrate the birth of Christ as the coming of the Saviour, and embrace the Gospel, this annual observance provides the opportunity to be grounded once again at the very core of our being, to understand that the purpose of all humanity is to live in the knowledge of the love of God and thus to live peaceably with all men and women.”

(Very Rev Peter G Williams, Diocese of Parramatta)

Liturgical usage

Luke 2:2-14 is the Gospel for the Christmas Eve Mass during the night.

In Luke’s Infancy Narrative, there are four canticles. A canticle is a hymnpsalm or other Christian song of praise with lyrics taken from biblical or holy texts other than the Psalms. In this Gospel the Angels’ song of praise is a canticle, called Gloria in Excelsis Deo. “ Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours.”(Luke 2:14) 

These words are also the beginning of an ancient prayer called the Gloria sung or said on all Sundays except those in Advent or Lent (which are penitential seasons) and on many important feasts that occur on weekdays. “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace to people of good will.”