Christmas musings #5

cross-in-mangerWhat was the message from the angel to the Shepherds? (Luke 2:10-11)

Do not be afraid. This is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible, possibly second only to ‘Praise the Lord’. When a powerful celestial being suddenly appears, lighting the sky above you with his presence, terror is an understandable reaction. To witness the glory of the Lord, whatever that might look like, is all the more spectacular. But God was sending these shepherds a message of hope.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Good news, of great joy. Not a new set of rules, another philosophy of life, or advice for clean living. Good news. That is what the Church has been given, and it is the source of the word “evangel.” In Old English, the word is “Gospel.”  Good news.
If you’ve heard that Christianity is a list of fun things you can’t do, you’ve heard from someone who’s doing it wrong. The authentic message of the Church is one of freedom, forgiveness, transformation, and eternal life. It’s Good News!

And to make the point as clear as possible, the angel was sent to common shepherds instead of the rich and powerful, with a message for “all the people.”

But the angel had more to say. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” In Bethlehem, the town of David, a Savior – the Christ had been born. The Greek word “Christ” is a translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. The angel was telling the shepherds that the long-awaited Anointed One – God in the flesh – had finally arrived. The Messiah who would save us from our sins.

There is one more phrase in the message that we must not miss. The angel did not merely say that a Savior had been born, but ‘born to you.’ He did not say ‘born to Mary’, or to Mary and Joseph, but ‘to you.’ The concept was not new, but it was – and still is – amazing. We see it many years earlier in the writings of Isaiah, where it was not an angel speaking, but a man. One of us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”    Isaiah 9:6-7

Did you see it? ‘To us.’ ‘To us – a child is born, to us – a son is given.’ The Bible is clear on this idea. Jesus was a gift from the Father, to us:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

Christmas musings #4

angel-resized

We tend to think of everyone in Bible times as a shepherd, but the reality is that it was a job for boys, old men, or those without other options. They were unskilled workers who smelled like they hung out with animals. But while the Magi were led by a star, those common shepherds had an encounter far more profound. Consider this:

Nearly two thousand years earlier, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai, the glory of the LORD covered the top of the mountain. (Exodus 24:16)  The people watched from below, terrified.

After setting up the tabernacle in the wilderness, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:35)

And one thousand years before the shepherds, at the dedication of the new temple, “when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’S house.” (2 Chronicles 7:1-2)

In each of these significant events in the life of the nation of Israel, we see God’s direct presence in the somewhat mysterious phrase, “the glory of the LORD.” It was an uncommon occurrence, and one that marked an incredibly important point in the history of God’s people.

With that in mind, we come to this:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:9)

We can hear the passage so many times, and become so familiar with it that we miss the whole point. The glory of the Lord shone around them! Jesus, the Son of God, is worthy of greater honor than Moses (Hebrews 3:3), than the temple (Matthew 12:6), or Solomon (Matthew 12:42)

And so we understand the terror a little better and we understand that something important was happening; something that would, once again, change the course of history.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” Galatians- 4:4-5