8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”Luke 2:8-12
Merry Christmas, Sojourner!
I still cannot believe that it is nearly Christmas. I know that I said that last week, but it is still the case for me. We have begun singing Christmas songs at church, our tree is up at home, and there have been ugly sweater sightings all around. To top it all off, I have tasked myself this week to write about joy.
The concept of joy is often foreign for most of us, but it seems especially distant in December 2020. While this season is often difficult for many under normal circumstances, this year has added many unforeseen difficulties. Did I mention that I was going to talk to you about joy today? Even as I sit here typing, I think that this is an odd place to begin. But, then again, Jesus – the source of our joy – decided that His earthly beginning would be odder still.
All of us have seen a movie, television show, or fairy tale that shows the birth of a royal baby. Princes and delegates come from all around. The whole kingdom waits in anticipation of the birth of the child of the king.
But that is not how the King of kings and Lord of lords began His time on earth. He did not choose to be born in a castle – and there were many fine palaces available at the time. He could have been born in the capital and shut the city down with parades and celebration, but, instead, He chose to be born in a seemingly insignificant town – and, even then, in the equivalent of a barn with a feeding trough as His first cradle. He could have had kings and emperors come to bow the knee – and they all inevitably would (Philippians 2:10-11), but He chose a ragtag group of shepherds camping out and taking care of their flocks.
Now, as odd as that is, He did not hold back on the spectacle or the announcement. He gave those shepherds a birth announcement that would outshine all others. Can you imagine what it was like to be those shepherds? They were minding their sheep when, all of a sudden, the angel army of the Lord showed up out of nowhere, fully arrayed in the glory and splendor of the Lord.
Naturally, the shepherds were terrified! Our translation above says they were “filled with great fear”, but the three words that make that phrase in the original language could be translated as “to be afraid”, “mega”, and “source or occasion for fear” – two different words for fear! They were frightened and mega-afraid; who could blame them?
The darkness was filled with light. The shepherds were filled with fear. But the angels brought news that would cure both. They brought “good news of great joy”. And it is in that message that they gave those “certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay” where we will find our joy in the same good news:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all 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.”(vv. 10b-12)
Good News for All People
I doubt that the shepherds felt that the angels’ sudden appearance was a good thing, but the first bit of good news that they gave was that the shepherds did not need to be afraid. I think that the angels’ response to the shepherds was that their mega-fear was going to be replaced with mega-joy, and that joy was to be “for all people” – available to every, single person.
But, to understand the good news, we must understand the truth about all people. We have all “sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “none are righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We are sinners. And just as shepherds do not usually receive royal birth announcements, no one is lining up to rescue sinners. But that is just what Jesus came to do! In Matthew 1:21, Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would “save His people from their sins”. That is good news that brings great joy.
People are often confuse joy and happiness. Happiness is fleeting. If I was to be totally honest, I am not very happy right now. But I have joy. The word translated joy here in this passage means “reason for gladness” or “object of joy/delight”. It is rooted in something deeper than happiness. For sinners caught in their sin and facing a holy God, there is nothing to be happy about. To be faced with the consequences of our sin, namely death (Romans 6:23), is no object or reason to be glad and nothing in which to delight. But Jesus was born to change all of that.
For Unto You is Born a Savior
As I stated above, a sinner standing before a holy God is a frightening prospect. There is nothing we can do to clean ourselves up. We cannot cover our sin. Our shame is on full display before God. It is bad news.
Bad news does not bring happiness, and it is does not produce a reason for gladness. BUT GOD “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) provides a way for us to be saved. “BUT when the goodness and loving kindness of GOD our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
Just as the angels interjected themselves into the peaceful night of the shepherds, God Himself interjected Himself into our timeline to be born as our Savior. Yes, the reality of our sin is terrible news, BUT GOD came to us as a child. He put on flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). At just the right time in history, God was born as a little baby in Bethlehem to make a way for us – for all people – to be saved (Galatians 4:4-5, John 14:6).
He explains it as clearly in Scripture as the angels’ voices rang out on that clear night so many years ago. Romans 10:9 tells us “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Any and every one – all people – who turn away from their sin and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
That is good news! That gives reason for gladness. Jesus is the only person – the only thing at all in this universe – that can truly and constantly be the object of our joy and delight. And, just as those shepherds were able to rejoice that night, we can rejoice in Him today.
And This Will Be a Sign For You
This year is probably not going your way. I have found more than enough reasons to complain and am likely to find more yet, BUT GOD has given us reason for joy. The shepherds give us a good example of how to proceed and how to put Jesus as the true object of joy in our lives.
You see, the shepherds did everything that the angels told them to do. They went to Bethlehem and found everything exactly the way that they were told by the angels. They found their sign – the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. It was the same sign that was prophesied so many years before by the prophet Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:14
Those dirty, unworthy shepherds were standing in the presence of God Almighty. He was every bit the King of kings and Lord of lords in that tiny, helpless child as He was when was nailed to the cross – as He was when He walked out of the tomb – and as He will be for all time. He is just as much Immanuel (which means God with us) for us today as He was for those shepherds.
The God that has always been humbled Himself and became a baby. He lived the life that we are not capable of, and He died the death that we deserve. The wages of sin is still death; He just loved us enough to die in our place (Galatians 2:20). He loved us enough to give us His Life as a free gift, ready to be received by faith in Him (Romans 6:23). Have you received that gift? Have you trusted in Him as Savior and Lord? Have you called out to Him?
The “good news of great joy…for all people” that the angels shared with the shepherds is still good news today. I pray that you look to Him as the reason and object of your joy and gladness today.