Luke 2:8-11 “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”
Let’s not misunderstand the angels. They are more than cute and cuddly figures, the chubby little cherubs of Renaissance art and so many Christmas decorations. The angels are holy, powerful, even frightening. When this angel appeared, the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds. Night became like day. Like everyone else who ever saw an angel in Scripture, the shepherds were terrified.
Does that surprise you, that it scares them out of their wits? It shouldn’t. When we are first confronted by perfect holiness, and perfect love, it condemns us. You may have seen a pious, yet sinful, Christian walk into a room where people were using off-color language. The people often become uncomfortable and quiet and change the conversation. That effect is heightened a thousand times when any sinful mortal finds himself in the presence of a holy being who reflects God’s glory. The glorious perfection makes our imperfection painfully clear. See the angel, and deceive yourselves no more!
So it is that this most enviable sight, this vision of glory, only drives home how far we are from heaven by nature. The streets on which we travel are paved with asphalt, not with gold. The future here, in this world, holds only death, not eternal life. From here, with the shepherds of Bethlehem, you can almost see heaven in the presence of the angel, and the sight before us terrifies.
But the angel had come with only good in mind for these men, and we get a little glimpse of heaven in his preaching. “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.”
“Don’t be afraid!” In the Greek, his words say even more. “You can stop being afraid–forever!” “You don’t ever have to be afraid again!” Why such confidence? The answer lay in the angel’s message. “I bring you good news of great joy…” What follows was not a message merely to calm them down. This was a message of joy. It would inspire them to celebrate and worship and tell others, just as it moves us to do each Christmas. We may bemoan the secularization of Christmas. So much materialism has crept into the holiday. But let no one tell you that it is wrong to celebrate–to sing and to decorate and to feast and to pull out all the stops. When God gives us reason to feel joy, it is only right that we respond in every way we know how.
And reason for joy he has given us. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The angels did not go into a lengthy discourse about who this Savior is, but the Shepherds didn’t need one. They knew what the Christ, the Lord was coming to do. For men who moments earlier had been scared nearly to death by this heavenly holiness, there would be no joy in hearing that here was a Savior from Caesar or Herod. They would not find a Savior from war, poverty, or sickness, to be good news. God had given them a Savior from sin: someone who could bring them forgiveness, rescue them from death, and make their vision of heaven happy once again.
Dear Friends, God has given us a Savior. For troubled consciences, for hearts heavy with sin, there is no better and more joyful news to be had. He has not sent us great example, to show us the way, but a Savior, who himself picks us up and carries us out of our awful mess. He has not sent us a helper, to help us be a little better, but a Savior, who has made all of our work his own. He has not sent us a task master, to whip us into shape, but a Savior, who frees us from our slavery to sin and makes us members of God’s own family.
Can you see it? Do you see the gates of heaven flinging open wide and the Father stretching out his arms in welcome? Can you almost see heaven in the angel’s preaching?