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. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-12)
I wish you a Merry Christmas. And indeed, Christmas should be a time of good cheer and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with family and friends the great joy that results from the good news about our Lord’s birth.
The Apostle John explains the theological significance of this event; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Perhaps it is fitting that the angel announced the good news to shepherds first. After all, this was the Lamb of God coming into the world to be given up by the Almighty as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all who would receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. John the Baptist fittingly introduced him as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
The Lamb would grow up to also be the Great Shepherd who would guide and protect those who would follow him. The writer of Hebrews elaborates: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
The angel was proclaiming the Gospel (good news). The word in the Greek text means “evangel” from which we get “evangelism”, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and salvation through Christ to be received by faith.
That message is the foundation upon which all Christian doctrine rests. The Word coming from heaven assures us that those who will put their complete trust in Jesus Christ will be saved from their sins and will not be condemned at the summation of history when the Lord returns in glory.
At Christmas we are invited to receive the Gospel message again with great joy. Who doesn’t need an extra portion of joy these days? From what I gather about the world’s bad news it seems like nearly everybody is about a quart low of any sort of joy.
It takes some serious intention to take hold of the hope we have in Jesus and let it be actualized in our daily lives. Too many of us who confess that Jesus is Lord are too often down in the mouth about something and our joy and peace get lost somewhere in the muddle of living in this dark world.
May I encourage those of you who believe on Jesus to revisit that moment in your life history when you first received the Lord into your heart? I can never forget that special moment. When I give myself to that memory, my salvation experience seems like just yesterday. When I recount my “new life” birthday, the joy of the Lord revisits my soul, and I am glad regardless of whatever circumstances might be taunting me into sadness.
It was in the wee hours on Christmas morning in 1966 when my wife Judy and I knelt around our coffee table and said a resounding “yes” to our invitation to receive everlasting life in Christ. Our immediate response came with great joy. We were overwhelmed by the experience, and we could not stop laughing. The Holy Spirit flooded our little living room with his presence and with the perfect peace he brings to those who submit their hearts to the Lord of creation.
When I remember that precious moment, I am encouraged by a passage of scripture. “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) What is the joy of the Lord? It is certainly not based on our present earthly circumstances, whether those are pleasant or depressing. Why do we need the strength of joy? The Apostle Paul answers both of those questions.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5).
We have peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is not the kind of circumstantial peace that the world promises us. It isn’t what earthly rulers mean when they talk about “world peace”. Jesus comforts us with these words, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid”. (John 14:27).
Jesus is referring to the same peace explained by Paul in his epistle to the church in Phillipi: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
With that promise, I can see what the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the humble shepherds meant when they proclaimed peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Immediately after the announcement of Christ’s birth a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14).
In response to the divine message, the shepherds became evangelists, messengers of the Gospel. As the story goes:
“So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:15-20).
This Christmas May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) Amen.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]