Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the lowliness of the birth. A poor peasant couple makes their way to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to register for a census imposed on them by the oppressive Roman Empire. Their journey is a long and hard one from Galilee, and when they arrive they can find no place of lodging. They are consigned to a place reserved for animals. There is a sense of poverty, rejection and obscurity. At the birth of the child, announcements are sent not to great kings or to the rich and powerful, but to lowly shepherds watching their flocks in the field.
Yet beside this humble lowliness is a message of unspeakable power and grandeur. The child who is laid in a manger is the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of King David. He will reign triumphant over the people of Israel and his kingdom will never end. He is the one spoken about by all the prophets. All of history has been pointing forward to its climax in him. An army of mighty angels comes from heaven to announce his birth.
These contrasts are a foretaste of things to come. In Jesus, the God of Israel and Lord of all the earth has come to visit and to save his people. The Divine One reaches down to meet them where they are. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will show special concern for the lowly, the poor, the outcast, and sinners. These are the ones he has come to save because they recognize their need for him. They receive the message of salvation with joy and rejoicing.
The contrast between lowliness and exaltation also relates to Jesus’ mission. Though wicked people reject him and put him to death, Jesus is vindicated at his resurrection and exalted to the right hand of God, where he reigns as Lord and Messiah. From there he pours out the Spirit of God to guide and direct his church. Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation Jesus provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who respond in faith to him.