St. Luke’s Gospel account begins and ends in the temple, a creative, stylistic, arrangement of the Gospel. At the outset, a thin religion of externals is silenced and a whole new era is announced by heavenly voices in the in the open grazing region far distant from downtown Jerusalem and the temple. Sketched out in Luke’s Gospel account is a picture of a transformed, enlarged place of Grace, inclusive enough to contain all people young and old, shepherds and common folk, male and female, citizen and refugee, defiled and undefiled, rich or poor. It is a picture of jubilee-society in process in which ultimately there is no prejudice, no poor, no war, peace and God’s glory fills the earth. It is a totally new dimension of temple; interestingly at the end of Acts, Paul is under house-arrest preaching the Gospel indicating the complexity of the new pluralistic social-political situation in Christ.
The enlarged ethos, lived out by Jesus in the activities of daily life in gracious, dramatic, Word-act is narrated by Luke. Speaking and acting in the tradition of the Old Testament Prophets, Jesus is stretching the scope of what was considered proper religious activity to dimensions unimaginable before, causing considerable reaction and discontent amongst those who had much at stake in the maintenance of the status quo. Implicating issues of social status and political power, Jesus was “hitting” too close to home for some. Some, entrenched in economic interests and social benefits, enjoying privileged status, considered themselves righteous, deserving of their wealth and prestige, so unlike the despised, undeserving unrighteous of low estate….like shepherds, Galileans, sick, or poor. Luke is writing a “right strawey” Gospel to well-off folks acculturated and conditioned by Hellenistic culture, enjoying the international benefits of Roman Pax.
Luke’s narrative begins with silence in the Temple in Jerusalem; Zechariah can’t speak for nine months. But on the margins of society, to those of low estate there is privileged communication; to the lowly shepherds, the hills resound with the glorious message and the song of angels of the birth of the one who is breaking in with the new international order of grace and wellbeing: Glory to God in the Highest, and peace and goodwill, among all people (Lk. 2:14). The lyrics of the song of the angels of course have many variations in translation, perhaps revealing discomfort with inclusive, cosmic dimensions of Glory in Heaven and grace and peace on earth. The Song of the angels transcends any notions of the rule of Pax for prosperity that Theophilus and his friends may have experienced or dreamed of; and of any visions of righteousness that the shakers and movers of Jerusalem and Juda might have had. Angelic Singing of international honours to someone other and greater that Caesar, declaring a peace attributed to something other than Pax Romana, would be considered subversive, astounding! Not only was it being politically incorrect, it was insensitive, not doing justice to reigning, “proper” social values.