Fourth Sunday in Advent: Christmas Eve Day: Luke 2:1-20: Bread and Glory
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, we know that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of your mouth. And therefore we come to you now hungry for your word. We are your children; so feed us now with the bread of life. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Yahweh, my fortress and nearest kinsman. Amen!
In the story of Ruth, there is a key phrase that occurs twice in the book, “under your wing” (3:19) or “under his wings” (2:12). The parallel created is a very intentional picture of God’s redemption of Israel. When God redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, he brought them out to the mountain and made a covenant with them and gave them bread (manna). At the center of the camp was God’s very own glory presence “above the Cherubim” above the wings of the Cherubim (e.g. Ez. 10:19, 11:22). To be “under the wings” is literally to be in the shadow of the Holy of Holies, at the foot of the ark. To be under these wings is to be in the glory-house of God where the “bread” of God is offered, to be in the camp of Israel where God gave bread to his people. To be under the shadow of the wings of Yahweh, to be redeemed out of bondage in Egypt, was to be among the people who ate the bread of Yahweh and to be led by his glory cloud.
Luke 2 begins with a census and Joseph returning to the city of his heritage, Bethlehem, the city of David. The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” In Genesis 35:19, we are told this is near where Jacob buried Rachel, the father of Joseph and Benjamin. Remember that one of Rachel’s two sons was Joseph who gave bread to the nations in Egypt. Joshua 19:15 tells us that Bethlehem was one of the cities included in the inheritance of the tribe of Zebulun. And the book of Judges ends with two horrific tales of wickedness that both involve connections to Bethlehem, showing us that the house of Israel is not being fed by the bread of God. The corrupt, young Levite and the unfaithful concubine both come from Bethlehem. And Ruth opens with this same bleak picture, Elimelech having left Bethlehem, perhaps faithlessly seeking for a blessing out from under the wings of God. But God raised up Boaz to picture God’s determination to be the near kinsman of Israel, the redeemer of Israel. The city of Bethlehem is the city of David, where God raised up a redeemer for his people. And the angels announce that this is happening again (2:11).
The Glory of the Lord
Here we are told that the “glory of the Lord shone around them.” Throughout Scripture God is identified closely with light and fire; God is light (1 Jn. 1:5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). God wraps himself in light (Psalm 104:1ff). God is surrounded in lightening and thunder (Psalm 18:8). Lightening and fire goes out from his throne (Ps. 97). Remember the pillars of cloud and fire in the Exodus. The Spirit is likened to fire; Christ came to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12). But lightening does not come alone. It is loud; it is a storm. We see this in the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah and Revelation: there are wheels and eyes and voices like rushing waters. There around the throne of God are terrifying angelic creatures rushing around with wings and roars of praise and adoration. Throughout the Scriptures there is a close association between angels and stars (Deut. 4:19, 17:3, Jdgs. 5:20, 1 Kgs. 22:19, Neh. 9:6, Dan. 8:10, Acts 7:42-43). This “host” is something like a cosmic hurricane. The glory of the Lord is an angelic tempest. The glory of the Lord is bright and loud. The shepherds were not just afraid of bright colored men with wings floating down out of the sky singing Handel; the rush and explosion of light and sound was enough to make these men really terrified.
Making Known Christ the Lord
The response to the announcement is immediate discussion and encouragement (2:15). And even after their visit of the Child, they are making “widely known the saying which was told them concerning the Child” (2:17). It’s also worth remembering that shepherds were some of the least respected members of society. Also, Israel was a nation of shepherds (Moses, wilderness generation, David). Finally, remember that “shepherd” was a title for the rulers of Israel. The shepherds are the kings (e.g. Ez. 34). The prophets promise new, faithful shepherds that will feed and protect the flock of Israel rather than feeding upon them. Shepherds picture perfectly all of these things: despised for their unfaithfulness as a class, but apparently faithful (keeping watch by night), and certainly willing to listen and obey. Notice also that the glory of the Lord has been transferred to the shepherds by the end of the episode. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God (like the angels 2:13-14).
Conclusion & Application
We have only considered slices of this story. The story is centered on a geographical location with thick connotations; the glorious storm presence of God comes down to announce the birth of the Christ to shepherds, an apt picture of Israel and her history. But one way to read this is as the story of the birth of a new Obed, the dead/virgin womb of Ruth/Naomi has been glorified in the virgin birth of Jesus. As Boaz overshadowed Ruth with his wings, so Yahweh came down and overshadowed Mary and she conceived and brought forth a Son. As Yahweh blessed Israel with fruitfulness and bread, so he is now redeeming Israel through the birth of Jesus. The Father is the kinsman-redeemer coming to the aid of dead and barren Israel. Jesus is the Son who will reclaim the inheritance. And grace upon grace, we have been invited to share in this inheritance, to be adopted by the Father as co-heirs with his Son. And he gives us the bread of life.
Concluding Prayer: Great and Majestic God, you who set your glory above the heavens, who clothe yourself in lightening and fire, you have come near to us. You have given your glory flesh; you have given your glory hands and feet and a name; a name that is above every name. We glory in this name. We glory in his cross. We glory in this gospel. We glory in your glory. And we plead with you to never make us Ichabod; let not your glory depart, for we are your people, called by your name. Give us more glory, O, God, fill us till we burst with the glory of Christ our God.