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. 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. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
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 them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:1–21 ESV)
Who are the main characters in the Christmas story told by Luke the evangelist? There are two kinds of characters: (1) named; and (2) unnamed. To start with the latter, there are especially two groups: angels, who are messengers of good news; and shepherds, who become witnesses of the birth of the Christ child (note that no animals in the stable are mentioned).
On the named side, there are the Emperor (Augustus) and the Governor (Quirinius) on the one hand, and the parents of the Christ child on the other (Mary and Joseph). The parents are first listed as “Joseph and Mary,” though later the order is reversed: “Mary and Joseph.” Mary is mentioned a third time (most of any) as the one who pondered “all these things” in her heart.
Interestingly, the name of the Christ child is withheld in Luke’s birth narrative until the final verse. He is called “child,” “her firstborn son,” “a baby,” “the baby,” and “this child.” Most notably, he is called “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Only at the formal name-giving, 8 days after the birth, is his name finally made explicit: “Jesus.”
By withholding the name of the Christ child throughout his narrative, Luke builds suspense and helps the reader take in the surroundings accompanying the birth of this unusual child. When the Christ child was born, it was not only as a baby, but as a baby as of yet without a name—without a name, that is, other than “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
He is not only “a” Savior, but “my” Savior. He most assuredly is the Christ, God’s long-awaited Anointed One. And he is “the Lord,” who by virtue of his redemption commands our unquestioned obedience. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). Is he also your Savior and your Lord?
I certainly hope that he is, or, if not, that you will acknowledge him as such this Christmas season. Unlike in Jesus’ day, when “there was no place for them in the inn,” “let every heart prepare him room.” Merry Christmas, everyone!