The Irony is Reality: Why We Need the Luke 2 Story

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Devotions, Exegesis, General, Sermon Illustrations

Norreasha Gill was elated to win the “100 Grand” contest sponsored by WLTO radio in Lexington, Kentucky. She won by listening for hours and being tenth caller at the right time. The disc jockey congratulated her, and said she could pick up her prize at the station the next morning. News spread. Friends gathered to celebrate. Before putting her three young children to bed, she promised them a minivan, a house, and a savings account. Excitement kept her awake all night. In the morning, she rushed to the radio station, but was instructed to return later. When she arrived home, there was a message on her answering machine explaining that she had won a Nestle’s 100 Grand candy bar, not $100,000. It was a cruel joke.

Things do not always turn out as we expect, and such is the case with Jesus’ birth. The first chapter of Luke functions like a forecast, telling us that something is about to happen. An angel visits Zacharias, announcing that Elizabeth will bear a son who will prepare way. Gabriel visits Mary, saying she will bear a son by Holy Spirit, and He will be the Son of the Most High. Mary responds with a song of praise. Zacharias sings about the horn of the salvation raised up from the house of David and lineage of Abraham. Something is about happen. In the second chapter of Luke, it happens, but not the way we expect.


In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town (Luke 2:1-3).


Augustus Caesar was his title, not his name. He was the first Roman Caesar to be called “Augustus,” which means “holy” or “revered.” The title was usually reserved for gods, but the Roman world hailed Augustus as a god—even calling him “savior”—because his military might brought stability to the known world. So, at the birth of Christ, the world already had its own self-proclaimed god and widely-accepted savior. But Caesar’s kingdom was about to be supplanted.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth (Luke 2:4-6).


The Davidic language is on point. Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was from the family of David. Jesus, therefore, would be born in the city of David and in the line of David. The description conjures images of majesty: a triumphant king leading his people to power, prosperity, and peace. The stage is set. We anticipate the birth of the great King in all the trappings of royalty, and we read:


And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).


The sentence drops with a thud. We expect ruffles and flourishes, but we get the simplest of circumstances: a homeless baby in a feeding trough. We anticipate a prince, but get a pauper. It’s like expecting $100,000 and getting a candy bar. And the irony doesn’t end.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to the them, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with  whom he is pleased!”


At last, some glitz and glamor! The glory of the Lord. Beams of light. Myriads of heavenly messengers, spanning the horizon, announcing the birth of Messiah – the One – a Savior. Strangely, though, these majestic messengers appear neither above the temple nor on the peak of a great mountain. They appear to shepherds in a pasture. We tend to picture the shepherds as nice young men who were sitting around a fire and reading Scripture. But shepherds were scoundrels. They kept sheep because they couldn’t be trusted with nobler tasks. Only lepers ranked lower on the social scale. Yet, to these most despised outcasts appear creation’s most lofty beings, announcing the most important event in history—the advent of the Son of God.

Why do these events occur in complete reversal of our expectations? Why the irony, and why does Luke preserve it so carefully? The irony is reality, and the point is clear: Good news comes to those who need it most. Jesus came for the desperate, not the self-sufficient. In Luke 5, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.”

The significance of this often passes us by, because we too quickly—if subconsciously—assume that we are well and righteous. We are, after all, decent people who pay our bills and love our families. We, then, romanticize the story and reduce it to mere sentiment. “Oh, what a cute tale—what a warm feeling! Let’s decorate the tree, put baby Jesus on the mantle, and have a nice time.” Our impulsive assumptions only reveal the depth of our depravity: we are needy and don’t even realize it. We are desperate, thinking we are sufficient. We are blind, thinking we can see. We are lame, thinking we can walk. We are lost, thinking we are found.

For the story to have any significance, the Spirit must open our hearts and crush our pride with its bone-jarring implication: the announcement of good news comes to us exactly as it came to shepherds—as to sick, sinful, desperate, needy people. We’ve no righteousness and we deserve no good thing from God. We, like filthy shepherds, stand in need—not in need of good advice or better education or more self-discipline—but in need of a Savior. And the Savior has come—come to trample our fear of judgment with good news of peace with God. Glory to God in the highest.