Joy to the World – Christmas Day, 2011
Isaiah 56:6-8, Luke 2:8-14
Christmas Day, 2011
The other day, Patty was asking about the angel’s announcement. “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all people.” She had it open, and I think just for fun, she asked, “Do you know where that’s found in the Bible?” And I said, “Luke 2” and I thought for a moment, and said, “verse 10.” And her jaw dropped open. “That’s exactly right!” I have to admit the verse 10 part was a guess. It seemed about right. But it was fun to nail it like that!
That’s what I want you to think this Christmas day. I want you to think about this announcement of the angel. I want you to have a strong image in your minds as you celebrate this great event today.
Think about the world to which that announcement came. It was a Roman world. That would become apparent very shortly in this story as a jealous Roman ruler would seek to destroy this child. It was a time when God’s people were conquered and occupied, and when things were peaceful and secure – as long as the people stayed in line. It was vicious and brutal if they were not. Like their ancestors, they longed for a deliverer. And now the time had come!
Then think about the people to whom this announcement came. It came to Shepherds! This was no glorious theophany (or vision of God) given to a great prophet, or witnessed on a mountaintop by a great assembly of the people. It was no voice crying in the wilderness. That would come later. This was no appearance in the Temple, it was not announcement of the plans of God to the religious leadership. They were not the first to know this news. Imagine what it was like when they first heard the question of the wise men!
The vision didn’t come to any of the great and influential people of that world. It came to shepherds in the fields. It came to these men who were the lowest of the low. It came to people with little or no social standing, who were out in the fields, just doing their job.
To them came one of the greatest visions of the spiritual realm ever witnessed by anybody anywhere! The Bible says, “They were sore afraid!” People were always afraid when an angel showed up! They were frightening, powerful beings. (Sorry. No thin, white, blonde, women here!) Angels were fearsome, and these men were terrified! And then, after saying, “Be not afraid, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy…” suddenly, in an instant, there was with that angel, a multitude of the heavenly host. There was a plethora of angels! Tons of them!! And they were singing “glory to God.” I’m sure our greatest gathering of choirs that we can imagine, singing in full voice in some great cathedral, doesn’t come anywhere near the magnitude of this vision! This was the spiritual realm in 3D Technicolor and Dolby Surround Sound!
Do you have the image? Now I want you to think about the people to whom this announcement was addressed. Yes, the Jewish people had been waiting for this announcement for many centuries. But when it came, the announcement was not about a “great joy that shall be to God’s people.” It wasn’t about “good news to the Jews.” It was “good news of a great joy that shall be to all people!” They who had become very exclusive in their faith heard the news that God was now reaching beyond his Chosen People, and bringing his Savior, his Christ, to “all people.” We could stop right there, and let that sink in the rest of this day. Later, John would write the words of Jesus, and it wasn’t “For God so loved the Jews that he sent his only son…” It’s “For God so loved the World!”
The angel brought “good news of a great joy that shall be to all people.” So, who does “all people” mean today? Sometimes it’s too easy to think the message was only for those who would come to accept it. It’s as though it was good news to us, and people who believed like us. But that’s not what the angel said. And as the people back then started to understand that, it was pretty difficult to swallow! The “inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of God” was a big controversy in the book of Acts. (Which was the story of the early church.)
So I want your vision to go beyond yourselves this Christmas day. I want you to think of all the people around the world and down through the ages, to whom this announcement was addressed. The bigger you make that vision, the wider view you take, the more amazing this story becomes. It’s an amazing announcement to all the world. And the shepherds of Bethlehem were the first to know!
So have a wonderful Christmas! Enjoy the celebration! But keep this vision in mind in all you do. It’s an amazing moment in history, and it makes all the rest of what we do this day that much more amazing!
Lord, what a wonderful story we celebrate today. Help us to appreciate more fully what this meant to the world. May the earth be filled with your glory this day, and may we celebrate in our hearts that great joy of which the angels sang! For we pray in our savior’s name, Amen.