CLICK TO LISTEN
Luke 2:10 "And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people."
Christmas Message 5 -
When you’ve just had a good meal, in good company, and then sit restfully in a comfortable armchair by a open fire you’re quite likely to feel happy and contented. The circumstances of your life have combined at that particular moment to make you feel good and for a moment the only thing you want to do is to enjoy it!
The Christian life involves good feelings but these feelings are not dependent upon our immediate visible circumstances.
"Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world."
Christian joy doesn’t depend upon such things as eating and drinking or even getting the right present under the Christmas tree (and I don’t know whether your presents are still there or whether you’ve opened them all already!) Christian joy won’t evaporate either when the new present doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t quite work, or came without the necessary batteries! Christian joy is nevertheless real: it is God-
Joy is an integral part of the Christian faith and not some optional add-
This morning I want us to spend a few minutes thinking about the messages that the angels shared with those shepherds out in the fields that first Christmas night. It was a message in two instalments – the first was brought by a "single angel of the Lord" and the second by a "multitude of the heavenly host".
Although the events of that first Christmas night are unrepeatable the effects are most certainly not!
"Good News of Great Joy..." The message of the first angel
What a headline destined to immediately grab the attention!
"Good news of great joy"
And the subheading is astonishing:
"for all the people"
When we turn on the TV news we’re used to hearing "bad news". And even on those occasions when we have a report of "good news" it is often only "good news" for one particular group within society. Victory for the government means another defeat for the opposition. To hear the familiar news that the Arsenal has again slipped up at this stage of the season will be bad news for Arsenal supporters but welcome news for their rivals. And of course for many others such a "news" item will leave them utterly indifferent.
The message the angel had to share was however not good news for a few folk it was good news for everyone. Later on in the Christmas story that godly old man called Simeon realised this same thing as he took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God. He declared that what God had done in sending the Saviour he had done in the "presence of all peoples" and he went further to add that both Jew and non-
Lk.2:22 "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
This news of a Saviour born at Christmas is intended to be good news for all – then and now. It is designed to be good news for you too. It is also good news that is not meant to be reluctantly received as you might receive a dentist’s appointment – it is good news of great joy.
Now it is one thing to affirm all that but just how is this angelic message such good and joyful news? The angel’s message begins on an encouraging note: Don’t worry, he said, it’s for you and you don’t need to fear that you will miss out. Listen carefully to what the angel said next.
Lk.2:11 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
It’s a simple statement but so full of truth and relevance for us all. This is what it’s all about:
A real event took place on a real day in a real city
Here we have a birth that really took place – this is no fictional character in some made up story.
His birth took place on a particular day – it took place on a very specific day that God had planned for a long time. Indeed before creation was ever begun God had planned this day and from the moment of the first rebellion of the human race God spoke of what he planned to do. Then finally after a wait that to some had seemed so long the time came, the right time came and Jesus was born in the fullness of time.
His birth took place too in a specific city, the city of David. This was no imaginary place, it wasn’t like Atlantis or Narnia, Mordor or Kings Landing – it was the town of Bethlehem where the famous King David had come from. Some 7 centuries before the actual day came when Jesus was born God had already revealed through the prophet Micah that the special event would take place here.
The event? The birth of a Saviour.
Now what is so important about that? Well, if you have ever sinned against God then you need a Saviour. You may be miles better than other people that you know, you may set a wonderful example in the street where you live but if you haven’t always loved God with all your heart or if you haven’t always treated your neighbour as you’ve spoiled and cosseted yourself then you need a Saviour!
The angel’s news is good for all of us because that day, in that town was born the Saviour we all need. This Saviour came into the world to save us from our sins. It is only God who can forgive sins against God and that explains why God sent the eternal Son of God into the world, because he is God. Later when Jesus had grown up he declared: "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. " (Mk.2:10)
We don’t need to try to be something we’re not. We don’t need to hide our failures. God knows all about us and in his love and kindness has come to meet us at our point of need – he has given us a Saviour!
The Saviour is the Christ
The angel’s message doesn’t end with the announcement of a Saviour’s birth but goes on to explain a little bit more about the nature and character of just who he is.
In the centuries preceding the birth of the Saviour God repeatedly spoke through men whom he sent to act as his mouthpieces. Those men we refer to as prophets. As time went by more and more details were given concerning the One who was to come, the One who would be anointed by God and the One who would be God. This anointed One was known as the Messiah in the Hebrew language – it translates into the Greek of the NT as "the Christ".
With more and more detail came more and more hope. This anointed One who was to come became the focus of all spiritual hope for God’s people. When he came he would do so much for them – how his coming was longed for!
And now, the angel, declared this Anointed One had come. The Saviour whose birth he had been sent to announce was none other than the Messiah, the Christ. He is the fulfilment of the hopes of the years, the centuries, and he can fulfil our hopes for the future: he can forgive our sins, he can give us a new, clean life and he can give us a new and right relationship with God our Father as he brings us into his family. Indeed in him all the promises of God are yes! (2Cor.1:20).
We all need hope for, as one Bible verse explains, "without a vision the people perish". So we should all be ready to ask ourselves the question whether or not our hope is based on solid sure foundations? Are you trusting in the Saviour who is the Christ?
Jesus the Saviour is born, the Christ!
The angel hasn’t yet finished with his identification of the Saviour who is the Christ – he is yet more, much more: he is Christ the Lord!
To speak of the Saviour in this way underlines his divine power. This One has the authority and the power he needs to defeat all of our foes and to make us both secure and well-
This Saviour who is Christ the Lord is the ruler, the sovereign, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. He is not only our Master, he is also the Lord of the universe!
"Glory to God in the highest..." The Message of the Angelic Multitude
No sooner had the first angel finished speaking to those astonished shepherds than a whole host of angels appeared. As they praised God they explained two of the purposes/effects of the birth of such a Saviour.
Firstly, God is and is to be glorified!
The angels looked on with wonder at the unfolding plan of salvation that had been drawn up to secure the salvation of a rebel race, the human race. All they could do was to worship God who could so deign to save such unworthy and undeserving creatures. When a large company of angels had fallen along with the devil who was cast out of heaven they were left forever in their fallen state. No saviour was sent for them and they appreciated the justness of it all but here the justice of God was expressed in a totally new and unexpected way. God’s wonderful righteousness was being satisfied not in the judgment of the guilty but in the transfer of human guilt to the Saviour who would mediate God’s grace and mercy to them!
Christians when they understand this wonderful, astonishing grace of God respond in just the same way – how can we praise and glorify God sufficiently for all his mercies? Have you come to realise the wonder of God’s love? Have you responded to it with your praise and do you desire to glorify God for such grace?
Secondly, there is the promise of peace to those who find favour with this great God.
God freely offers his peace to all but it is only received and experienced by this one group of people who are described as being those with whom God is pleased and them alone.
Are you a member of this select group? You don’t become one by relying on your own efforts and trying ever so hard to make God love you. All those who are members of this blessed group are marked by one outstanding characteristic: they have personally welcomed the peacemaker, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, into their lives. If you however chose to refuse him a welcome then you need to know that you are cutting yourself off from the only one who can bless you.
Before we close I need to say just a little about the peace with which God promises to bless those with whom he is pleased. that is offered so widely and generously to men and women is not primarily about the absence of war amongst the nations though one day it will involve even that. No, the peace that is offered to us is a personal peace that may be described in a threefold manner:
First, and foremost, it is the peace of being reconciled to God himself. Such peace removes our fear so that we are no longer frightened or scared of him as Jesus takes up his new and loving rule in our lives.
Second, we are set at peace with ourselves – our conscience no longer troubles us as before for we know our sins to have been forgiven by a truly wonderful and Mighty Saviour.
Third, being at peace with God and with ourselves we are free to pursue peace in our relationships with others. We no longer find our worth and value by competitively comparing ourselves with others. We find that our true value comes to us by virtue of God’s restorative grace at work in our lives and we don’t have to strive with those we come into contact with – we don’t have to treat them as rivals any more. As far as it depends upon us we can live at peace with others.
When we consider the various different actors in the Christmas story as recorded in the Bible we quickly discover that people fall into one of two camps.
Some embrace the good news that they hear responding positively to it. Sometimes the response comes quickly and sometimes it comes more slowly but the important thing is that the positive response does come and with joyful, peaceful rejoicing.
Others refuse to embrace even what they know to be true! These end up increasingly hostile and instead of joy are filled with fear and anxiety.
I urge you today to make sure that you belong to that first group – and the way to do that is to open your heart to receive that most wonderful of peacemakers, the Saviour who is Christ the Lord.
And may God bless you all this Christmas.