(4) The First Eight Days
We’re all familiar with the Christmas story. We’ve all seen manger scenes in churches, sometimes even in public places.
1. Which manger scenes have impressed you the most? Why?
2. What would you expect to see in a conventional manger scene? Why?
3. Have you ever seen a really unconventional manger scene? Maybe on a TV show? How did it affect you?
4. How important is tradition? And how important is it to make sure our traditions agree with the Bible?
Read Luke 2:1-7
1. Censusses weren’t so uncommon, but Israel is a long way from the center of power. How would people have felt about being ordered around by the Romans?
2. Do you suppose the Romans understood what chaos might be caused by telling everyone to go to their “own town” to be registered? How would you interpret such a command?
3. Did they have roadside inns and motels in those days? If not, where might Joseph and Mary have hoped to stay, given that Bethlehem is Joseph’s “home town”?
4. What else might be meant by the words translated “inn,” “swaddling clothes” and “manger”? Do we have to interpret this story as saying Jesus was born in a hillside cave and wrapped in discarded rags?
5. Who might we alienate by saying Jesus was born in a hillside cave? Does Luke want us to alienate anyone?
Luke introduces whole hosts of angels now, singing to hillside shepherds. Read Luke 2:8-14
1. By now Luke’s readers, even those unfamiliar with Biblical angels, had an idea of who Luke meant. What idea of angels did you grow up? How are angels viewed today in our culture/in Christian missionary culture? How do they fit with 2 Kings 6:17?
2. Shepherds were looked down upon. They even worked on the Sabbath! And they were poor. If we believe that both shepherds and kings visited Mary and Jesus, why does Luke, writing for Gentiles, pick this story to include?
3. Read Luke 2:17-20. How did neighbors find out who Jesus was?
4. Why might Mary be less vocal?
Luke tells the story of Jesus’ circumcision and naming on the 8th day, just as he told of John in chapter 1.
1. The name Jesus means “God saves,” but why doesn’t Luke tell us that?
2. Read Luke 2:21-24. Does the sacrifice in the Temple take place the same day as the circumcision and naming? (Read Leviticus 12:1-5, Exodus 13:12-15)
3. Read Luke 2:25-26. What was Simeon hoping for? How would Gentile readers have understood this?
4. Read Luke 2:29-32. How might Gentile readers have felt reading this? (Read Isaiah 42:6)
5. Read Luke 2:33-34. What surprised Joseph and Mary?
6. Read Luke 2:35. Do you suppose Mary imagined this would be easier? How do we feel when we think we’re doing God’s will and it turns out really difficult?
7. Read Luke 2: 36-38 Simeon is not the only prophet, and prophets aren’t always men. What does this short piece add to the story for us? What might it have added for early readers?
Modern manger scenes often include shepherds and kings visiting the baby. Luke, writing for Gentiles, mentions the Hebrew shepherds, while Matthew, writing for Jews, mentions Gentile wise men. Who were least likely to believe Jesus came to save them in these two societies? Why might Matthew and Luke have made these choices?