Monday, December 17, 2012

Heralded by Angels

Part 3 of the series The Birth of Christ

You can listen to this sermon here.



And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14) 


What Is Christmas All About? 

My favorite Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It begins with Charlie Brown depressed about Christmas. He says to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Finally, as Charlie Brown is trying to direct a Christmas play, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds by reciting Luke 2:8-14. (Network executives didn’t want Linus to recite Scripture, thinking that viewers wouldn’t like it. But Charles Schulz was determined to keep the scene in, saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” (Source: Wikipedia).


Unlike Charlie Brown, most people in Canada know that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But I think most people miss the significance of his birth. Why does the birth of Jesus matter?


Good News! 

There are many surprising parts to the Christmas story. One surprise is that the first people to be told about Jesus’ birth is a group of lowly shepherds. God cares about ordinary people. These shepherds were “in the same region …out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). Imagine the shepherds’ surprise when “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (v. 9). As we would expect, “They were filled with fear” (v. 9).

The angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news” (v. 10). The good news that the angel brought to the shepherds was new “of great joy” (v. 10). (We could contrast the lasting joy of this good news with the temporary joy that most Christmas presents bring.) The angel also said that the good news “will be for all the people” (v. 10)—for all kinds of people. In the Christmas story, Jesus is presented as being born for all sorts of people (the shepherds, the wise men, Mary, Zechariah).

The good news was the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). What day was “this day”? We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the Bible doesn’t say on what day Jesus was born. The baby Jesus is given three titles: “Savior,” “Christ,” and “Lord.” A “Savior” is a deliverer (cf. 1:47, 69). The “Christ” is the “Messiah,” which means “Anointed One” (cf. Ps. 2:2). “Lord” is a title used for God. “For Luke this title will become the key Christological term to describe Jesus (Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:33-36), and these later texts will define what κυριος means. For now, Luke is content merely to present the term from the angelic announcement and not explain it” (Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, p. 218). 

The angel gives to the shepherds a “sign” (v. 12; cf. 1:19-20, 36): “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). “What is amazing is not that the child is wrapped up, but who the child is and where he is. One hardly expects to find Messiah in an animal room. One would expect a palace…. Messiah’s life will contain an unusual bookend for a king, since he was born in an animal room and will die with robbers” (ibid., p. 219).

After the angel had told the shepherds the good news, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (v. 13). A “host” of angels is an army of angels. All of the angels were “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (vv. 13-14). God in heaven is given glory, and people on earth are given peace. “Those with whom [God] is pleased are the elect. It could also be said that they are those who have embraced Christ as Savior.

The good news of Christmas is that a Savior has been born.


What Christmas Is All About 

The angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth should cause us to ask two questions. First, why does the world need a Savior? Second, what kind of peace did Jesus bring to earth?

1. The world needs a Savior because of our sin. 

After Adam and Eve sinned, God said to the serpent (Satan), “I will put enmity between you the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.”

The woman’s “seed” is Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16). According to biology, a woman does not have a seed, so there is a hint of the virgin birth in Gen. 3:15. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). When we became broken because of sin, God had a plan to put us back together—spiritually. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Because Christ was broken (on the cross) for our sin, we can be put back together.

2. Jesus brought to earth peace between God and man. 

Part of putting us back together is restoring our relationship with God. That relationship was broken because of our sin. But through faith in Jesus, we can receive eternal life. That’s the good news!