Daily Devotional for December 22-28
Luke 2: And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed [a]wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a [b]manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being [f]a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is [g]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name [h]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and [i]did not know her till she had brought forth her[j] firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Commentary: God uses earthly rulers to accomplish His will. This census enabled Christ to be born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah (Mic 5:1). In the hymn by St. Cassiane sung at Vespers of the Lord’s Nativity, Augustus ruling as the only emperor over many scattered cities is an icon of our one Lord gathering the scattered pagans of the world. Christ being registered in the fallen world enables the faithful to be registered in the name of God.
The righteousness of Joseph consisted of a mercy that transcends the Law (Hos 6:6). Joseph showed this mercy by his unwillingness to expose Mary’s supposed sin, even though he was obliged by the Law to do so. Her husband: The Bible calls engaged couples husband and wife before their marriage (Rachel was called the wife of Jacob before marriage by virtue of their engagement in Gn 29:21; see also Dt 22:23, 24). Thus, Joseph is called the husband of Mary, and Mary is called his wife (vv. 20, 24). In the Church, Joseph is remembered as the Betrothed, pointing out Mary’s ever-virginity. (See also note on Est 2:7.) 1:20 An angel (or “messenger”) of the Lord dispels Joseph’s false reasoning by announcing the utterly unreasonable:
1:23 The conception of Jesus fulfills Is 7:14, where we are told that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son. He who is conceived in Mary is not a new Person coming into existence but the eternal Son of God now using her womb as His throne. Both the virginal conception by means of the Holy Spirit and the name Immanuel, God with us declare Christ’s divinity. 1:25 The use of the word till does not imply that Joseph had marital relations with Mary after the Savior’s birth. In the Bible, this word (sometimes translated “to”) is often used to express a situation that actually continues after the event mentioned (see 28:20; Gn 8:7; Dt 34:6; 2Kg 6:23). The witness of the entire Church throughout history is that Mary remained a virgin for life.
Prayer: Glory to Jesus Christ….Glory forever.
(This week’s commentary is from the Orthodox Study Bible. Also, aside from the birth/shepherds, the other events often read one after another at Christmas actually happened at larger time (up to two years with the flight to Egypt). So this organization is chronological for this week.
Luke 2: 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And [c]behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a [d]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,
And on earth peace, goodwill[e] toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made [f]widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Prayer: O give thanks to the Lord for He is good for His mercy endures forever.
Commentary on the Shepherds
The term firstborn does not imply Mary had additional children, but only that no child was born before Jesus. The firstborn son is traditionally the primary heir and recipient of blessings. Christ is the firstborn over all creation, and thus the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:15, 18). In Orthodox icons of the Nativity, Christ’s swaddling cloths are depicted as burial wrappings, affirming that one purpose of His coming was to endure death. The manger, or feed trough, would have been in a cave where animals were kept, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib” (Is 1:3).
Shepherds are chosen to hear the first announcement of the Nativity, as they are symbols of Christ the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11). Unlike the Pharisees, the shepherds were without guile and had simple faith. 2:13, 14 The message of the first angel is confirmed by the multitude, fulfilling the Law in which every word is established with two or three witnesses (Dt 19:15). Christ Himself is our peace who has come to earth; in Him, man is no longer estranged from God (see Eph 2:14–16). 2:17–20 The shepherds are also images of the bishops and presbyters of the Church, who proclaim Christ to the world. St. Ambrose writes that Mary’s own faith was strengthened by the news from the shepherds, and he asks, “If Mary herself learns from the shepherds, why do so many refuse to learn from the presbyters of the Church?”
Christ is born…Glorify Him?
21 And when eight days were completed [g]for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 [h]And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Prayer: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill among men.
Commentary on the Presentation:
Because Christ has come to perfectly fulfill the Law, He receives circumcision under the Law (see note on 1:59). In the Orthodox Church, it is ancient tradition to name a child eight days after birth, with a special blessing. 2:22–24 The Presentation of Christ (also called the Meeting of the Lord) is celebrated in the Church on February 2. Mary fulfills the law (Lv 12) by bringing Jesus to the temple on the fortieth day. (In the Orthodox Church, mothers and newborn children also receive a special blessing on the fortieth day.) The law required that an offering of an unblemished lamb be brought, or if the mother is not able to bring a lamb, then she brings a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Lv 12:6–8). Not only do Mary and Joseph offer turtledoves, but as Christ is the unblemished Lamb of God, they perfectly fulfill the precepts of the Law by offering Him as well. This also fulfills the prophecy spoken when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac and said, “God will provide for Himself the sheep for a whole burnt offering” (Gn 22:8). 2:22–40 This passage is read on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. 2:25, 26 Simeon represents humanity in waiting for the Consolation of Israel. He fulfills Ps 90:16, in which God makes a promise to the one who loves Him: “With length of days I will satisfy him, / And show him My salvation.”
Prayer: All yea works of the Lord bless ye the Lord praise Him and magnify Him forever.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, [a]wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the [b]wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Prayer: Thanks be to God.
Commentary on the Magi:
The wise men, or magi, who come from the East (most likely Persia), were the scholars of their time. In the OT, Balaam (Nm 23; 24) was one of their predecessors, a Gentile who anticipated the Messiah. These foreigners prefigure the Church, in which membership is determined by faith and not by ethnic lineage.
The star proclaims the extraordinary birth of Christ. To ancient pagans, a star signified a god, a deified king (Nm 24:17). Christ being born under this star fulfills the prophecy in Ps 109:3 and shows all of creation participating in the Incarnation. (See also Pss 18:2; 148:3.) Herod had to summon the Jewish leaders because he knew little about the Jewish Messiah and he feared losing his throne to this newborn King. The chief priests were the political and religious leaders of the Jews, and the scribes were high cabinet officers. They knew where the Messiah was to be born, but in spite of all the signs being in place, they had no idea that He had come (see 16:3). 2:11 Into the house: Whereas the Jewish shepherds worshiped the Savior in the cave on the day He was born (Lk 2:8–20), the Gentile magi came to worship Him some time later. By then, Joseph and Mary had found a house in which to dwell. This indicates that Christ first came to the Jews and then afterward was worshiped by the Gentiles. The significance of the Magi’s gifts is revealed in a hymn sung at Compline of the Nativity: “Gold is for the King of ages. Frankincense is for the God of all. Myrrh is offered to the Immortal One, who shall be three days dead.”
*The time frame for their arrival is anywhere from 12 days after the Nativity (‘Epiphany’) or up to two years after the birth.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory.