As Christmas approaches once more, ever encroaching thickets of tinsel and trappings need to be hacked away to restore the proper perspective of the season. Santa and the reindeer may be endearing, but they are impostors. Our presents may be given and received in a real spirit of love and grace, but they pale into insignificance alongside the real Christmas story.
The Christmas story is about the one supreme Giver and His one supreme Gift. The Giver knows just what the recipients need the most, and even though there could be nothing more costly to the Giver, He gives it freely nevertheless. One way of reminding ourselves again of the greatness of the message of Christmas is to look at the announcement of the angel to the shepherds.
This message was brought powerfully to life for me by a speaker who likened the message to a peal of bells. Each phrase was likened to the ringing of an individual bell, in turn providing a great sounding scale of music descending from heaven. Even now I can see his action as he pulled on the imaginary ropes as he introduced each of the following phrases.
DO NOT BE AFRAID. FEAR NOT. There is something about angels that brings fear, especially when they are bringing the very presence of God close to hand. Witnesses are reminded that human beings are not so great after all, and that a Holy God and His faithful servants are worthy of fear, awe and respect. It is a good and necessary thing to experience this real sense of awe and fear, but God does not want us to stay at that level of relationship. This fear, however, has more to it than merely a creature suddenly brought into contact with the Creator. It confronts us with the fact that, as sinners, we have all individually offended against the goodness and holiness of our Creator, and that we do indeed deserve His wrath and judgement. All readers can and should identify with the shepherds in this account, who represent all of humanity in the presence of God at the announcement of the meaning of the Christmas message. The Christmas message contains the way for this relationship of fear to be overcome and for us to enter into a loving relationship with God full of joy and peace.
BEHOLD. Listen! Take note! This is important – this is very important. This is life changing news – but do listen, and do your part in response to what you are about to hear.
I BRING YOU… A personal message from a powerful servant of God to a small group of shepherds. They must have realised there was a narrow yet deeply personal element to each of them in the message, and a wider inclusive message that was to reach out beyond their little group to the whole world. Today you and I are within the scope of the message and we need to appreciate our individual place within the scope of the message.
GOOD TIDINGS… In a world of bad news, most of which mankind inflicts on ourselves, how wonderful it is to have an unfailing message of good news that is still living and relevant to every person in the world 2,000 years on. This is not good news on a level with other items of good news we may experience in our lives. This far surpasses every other message of good news we could ever envisage or imagine. Sadly, many turn away in unbelief because the well worn phrase “too good to be true” has its way in our hearts and minds. Those words are true of the human sphere, but here we are sharing a message of Good News from God. God is good, He is love, He is powerful – if He has a message of Good News for us we can be sure it IS true, even if it stretches “too good to be true” way beyond the normal breaking point.
OF GREAT JOY… To emphasise the point, the angel adds that the good news is also news of Great Joy. The Bible is not a book of exaggerated language. When the disciples had witnessed the horrors of the cross, the unique events of the resurrection then took place. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord” is the flat, almost dead-pan language of our English Bible. “He made the stars also” is a favourite throw away line from the creation account in Genesis. Countless myriads of stars and the vastness of galaxies created – just like that. So when there is a message presented as “Good Tidings of Great Joy…” there is every reason for us to sit up and take notice – especially when we – you and me – as well as the shepherds on that unforgettable night, are the recipients. The speaker I remember rang this bell with infectious enthusiasm and delight!
WHICH WILL BE TO ALL PEOPLE. No-one is left out. God has a message of love reaching out to every individual human being, from every nation, tribe and language. All means all both in the collective and the individual sense. If you read this the message is just as much for you as it is for anyone else. God loves everyone individually, and has expressed that love fully in the giving of Christ as Saviour. As must always be the case in matters of love, response must be by consent and can never be forced. If you hear the message, understand it – and still refuse – you cause God Himself to suffer the pain of unrequited love.
FOR THERE IS BORN TO YOU… A birth is always a matter of wonder and joy, as well as anxiety for mother and child. But no previous birth in the ever expanding human population had ever before called for an angelic proclamation. However, there was a long promised birth stated through the Old Testament, and the angel was saying that this promise was now being brought into reality. “Unto you a child is born, a son is given…” to be a virgin birth as was also promised elsewhere in Isaiah. Again the word “you” must have resonated among the shepherds. After all they were hardly candidates for being at the front of the queue for such a momentous occasion.
THIS DAY… Today, a real moment in time in the real history of real events in the real world in which we still live and move and have our being. A bell rang for the shepherds – that night was their TODAY for hearing and responding to the message. THIS DAY, today, when you read this, may be the day when the bell rings in your life for you to respond to the Good News of Great Joy. “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation…” For the shepherds, that day would never be surpassed in their experience. The same is true for all who experience the day when the gospel message of Christ personally impacts on our lives for ever.
IN THE CITY OF DAVID… A real place in the real world – Bethlehem – exactly where the promised Messiah was to be born.
A SAVIOUR… We need saving, and the Saviour Jesus (Jesus means Saviour) is exactly the provision from God that we we need. We are unable to save ourselves from the penalty of sin, or from its power over our lives, or from its presence in our hearts and throughout our human society. Jesus is announced by the angelic servant of God as the Saviour. We need not – we must not – look anywhere else. Jesus fulfills the role of Saviour perfectly to fit our needs and to meet God’s holy requirements. The story of the salvation Jesus brings was fully worked out through His perfect sinless life, His atoning death and His glorious resurrection.
WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD. Here we have more names and titles that demonstrate the greatness of the One who was born that day. He is the anointed one, the Messiah, the One who should be recognised as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A little over thirty years later He was rejected and crowned with thorns rather than crowned as King.
TODAY we have the personal responsibility and choice before God whether to accept Him as personal Saviour or to reject the Good News and continue our lives without Christ as Saviour and Lord. Great joy indeed comes to all who trust Him, because He keeps His promises and brings those of us who believe into living relationship with God as Father. May this bell “today – today – today” ring loud and clear in many lives as they have opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.
TODAY will you join with millions of others who lose sight of everything else at Christmas and give thanks to God, the Giver, for His unspeakable Gift, His Son our Lord Jesus Christ? This is the true perspective of Christmas, the true scale and significance of the Good News that for outweighs and overshadows every other message ever shared among humanity.