by Paul Briggs
Earlier this week, I was in the car alone returning from Indianapolis. The snow was falling, and if I hadn’t been driving, I might have seen the beauty that was all around me. But I was driving, and my challenge at that moment wasn’t to see beauty but to figure out how I could stay in my lane… the lane I could not see because the road was completely covered by snow! The number of accidents and cars in the ditch I had already passed reminded me of the danger. I certainly didn’t want to be added to that number!
As I crept along toward home in those challenging traveling conditions, I was listening to Christmas music on the radio. After playing one of the familiar tunes from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the announcer shared an interesting trivia fact. (He had my attention because this was related to my childhood: I had carried a Charlie Brown lunchbox to school during my elementary school years!) This Christmas classic first aired on national television on December 9, 1965 and has aired every Christmas season since then—54 years and running!
This brought to my mind the many times I have watched this beloved show; hearing the raspy voice of Linus respond to Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” The recitation of the words of the angel announcing the good news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds from Luke 2 is so simple, it is glorious: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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” (Luke 2:10-11).
“Fear not.” Fear is one of the first reactions we read about after the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). How marvelous it is, then, that when the heavenly angel appears to the shepherds that night (causing them to fear because of his sudden glorious appearance), he tells them not to fear.
- The angel came to announce the good news of great joy that will be for people from every nation, tribe and language. This was good news of great joy... not something to be feared.
- The angel came to announce the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise that was made in the Garden of Eden as God was cursing the serpent for having led his creatures, Adam and Eve, into slavery to sin. This was good news for those who recognize their slavery to sin and long to be free of it!
- The angel came to announce that finally the promise that was made so long ago was beginning to be fulfilled in the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord. This was good news for those who knew the promise and had awaited it for hundreds of years.
A danger of a familiar story such as the one we find in Luke 2 is that our knowledge of the story can easily lead to failure to reflect deeply on it, and we miss important details. It could be like driving on a familiar but now snow-covered road and trying to figure out what lane you are actually in! There are several important truths I would like to highlight from Luke’s account of the shepherds hearing about the birth of Jesus from the angel.
- The shepherds believed this good news of great joy. This is a foundational and necessary step before all else: belief/trust. Imagine what would have happened if, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds had deliberated about the truthfulness of the message and whether or not they should bother wasting their time (and risking their livelihood!) by going to Bethlehem to see what was happening there. No! They said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…” They believed what had been communicated to them!
- The shepherds recognized the source of the message: the Lord himself. Knowing the source is essential to trust. The shepherds understood that the angel had been a messenger from the Lord! They didn’t doubt that “....which the Lord [had] made known to them.” They knew the Lord reveals truth to his people, so they went to see the one who is “the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
- The shepherds’ belief became action. The Gospel is like that, isn’t it? When it grips and changes our lives, it motivates us to action! When the angels went away from the shepherds into heaven, the shepherds went with a great sense of urgency to become eyewitnesses of that which the Lord had made known to them.
- The shepherds made known this good news of great joy to others. Once they had become eyewitness of what the Lord had made known to them, the shepherds could not help themselves. They had to tell others what had been told to them by the angel and what they had seen: that this child lying in a manger was the Savior, the Lord, the long-awaited Messiah!
- This good news of great joy brought a response of the heart from the shepherds toward God. The shepherds could glorify and praise God as they returned to their work (rather than be terrified of him and curse him!) because of all they had “heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). The words and events they had been privileged to witness transformed their lives from that day forward.
How about you? Have you believed the message of Christmas: that God sent His son into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)? Have you recognized that the message of Christmas is not man made, but God-initiated (2 Corinthians 5:21)?
If you have believed the message of Christmas and have recognized the God-initiated nature of it, are you continuing to grow in the truth that you know (2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 3:18)? Are you making it known to others (Acts 13:47-48)? What is your heart response to the living God concerning these things (Luke 1:67-76)?
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).