This is a familiar passage to many of us, and at the end of this Advent series, we'll look once more at the events of Christmas night. How and why did the people celebrate Jesus' birth, and how do we consider the good news of Christmas today?
(A) Angels’ Announcement – the good news is REALLY good (v.8-14)
Following the account of Jesus' birth in Luke 2:1-7, we read of how angels appeared to shepherds. For many of us who are familiar with this Christmas narrative, we have long accepted this appearance of angels to shepherds as fact and part of the familiar backdrop. Yet, there is really something surprising about this that Luke records for us. God chooses to make the announcement of the special birth of the Savior of the world to shepherds! Once again, we see how God uses the humble and even the outcasts of society for His purposes. We see from here hints of how God's salvation made available to all -- the lowly, the Gentiles too. Such an unexpected revelation to these humble folks would also be openly accepted by them. Perhaps too, God wanted to use shepherds to herald the coming of the true Shepherd. He also specifically used Bethlehem shepherds, who specifically raised sacrificial lambs. Jesus' birth heralded the coming of the true sacrificial lamb. The shadow of the cross falls across His birth.
The angels brought a message to the shepherds.
- "Fear not" (v.10) -- The sudden appearance of angels with God's glory certainly was surprising and a tad scary to shepherds in the field. This was certainly not an everyday occurrence!
- "... I bring you bring you good news of great joy" (v.10) -- This was the purpose of the angel's appearance -- to proclaim a news.
- "For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord" (v.11) -- The One who is the fulfillment of all the OT prophecy, the promised Christ has come to fulfill the promise of God, and has come to save His people. This would be good news to the shepherds, and to Israel.
- "And this will be a sign for you..." (v.12) -- They were told how to identify this special one and encouraged to check and verify the truth for themselves.
That was not all. There appeared a multitude of angels after this announcement was made (v.13a) and they began to praise God (v.13b). They ascribed all "glory to God in the highest" (v.14a) and proclaimed "on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (v.14b). How do the praises of the angels strike you? The vertical relationship with God must be in its rightful position first (Glory to God), and the horizontal peace and good will among men will come later. Notice also that peace is specially tied to those with whom God is pleased. Who is God pleased with? He is pleased with those who honor Him and give Him His rightful place.
The announcement of the angels reminds us that Christmas is good news because it fulfills prophecy. The first Christmas was a sign that what God had promised came true, and it also means for us today that everything else in the Bible is true! It should give us great security, and leave us excited that God is going to fulfill all that He has said and look forward to more of HIs promises that have yet to be fulfilled completely. This also means that God's judgment and wrath for those that continue to rebel will also come true.
(B) Shepherds’ Response – action, exuberant praise and thanksgiving (v.15-18, 20)
How did the shepherds respond? They left immediately (v.15) and went with haste (v.16). Perhaps they were cautiously excited, but obeyed nonetheless to verify what had been told them. These verses remind us to respond immediately in obedience, without delay at what God has revealed to us!
When they finally saw Jesus, the shepherds made known the saying that had been told them (v.17) and their words caused wonder among those that heard it (v.18). The shepherds, we are told, were amazed at finding the baby, for it meant that what God said was true, and they left glorifying and praising God (v.20).
The Good News of Jesus Christ must be understood against the backdrop of the Old Testament and everything He comes to fulfill. This Christmas, let us not forget that Jesus' birth was truly good news because He was the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus was the one promised all the way in Genesis 3, and when we understand this wonderful truth, it will certainly cause great joy in our hearts and leave us in exuberant praise like the shepherds!
How, then, are we reacting to this news today?
(C) Mary’s Response – understated comfort and peace (v.19, 21)
How did Mary respond to all the things that were told her? In verse 19, we are told that this young mother "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (v.19). Mary and Joseph also named the baby Jesus, as it was told to them (v.21, c.f. Matt 1:21).
Mary’s response is set in contrast to that of the shepherds and other people with the ‘but’ in verse 19. Perhaps it wasn’t the same kind of ecstatic celebration – surely partially because she had recently given birth but also probably because so many things had gone on in the build up to this as we have seen before. The intrusion of the shepherds and their wondrous story served as confirmation of Jesus’ identity, and brought peace and comfort for the new mother. Mary might not have understood everything that was told to her, but in these verses once again, we see her obeying in faith by naming her son as the angel told her previously, and meditated upon all the things that the shepherds and wise men brought to her.
These verses focussing on the events of that first Christmas remind us again that Christmas is more than just a baby and an abstract concept of peace. Christmas shows us a God who keeps the promises that He has made, and has a plan to save the world and restore it through the sending of His Son, the promised Savior. Yet, so many years ago, was born in the city of David not just A saviour, but YOUR saviour and MY saviour, OUR saviour. The anointed, promised one saves today also. The shepherds were given the sign of the baby, and rejoiced because of what they understood of the scriptures: this child would grow to become a great ruler – but perhaps they, like many, expected a human ruler. The signs revealed to us go far beyond that – the baby is born, He goes to the cross and dies, He is resurrected on the third day, 40 days after that we are granted the Holy Spirit, years later we are granted the very Word of God, the Bible, and in it, the writing of John in revelation that is the prophecy and hope for his and our future: Jesus is coming again. The good news is really good, and the Bible records it all for us.
The first Christmas helps us to eagerly await the final fulfilment of God's promises -- that Jesus will come again. For us today even as we wait and look forward to that day, the good news of Christmas demands a response from God's people. Like the shepherds, we are called to set out with haste and great urgency to proclaim the news that we have received. Like Mary, we are called to treasure what has been revealed to us, and in doing so, find peace amidst the storms and uncertainties of life in Jesus Christ