Published December 6, 2007
Luke 2:4-12, 16-20
Related Sunday School Lesson Bible Studies for Life, Dec. 23
Floating silently on the gentle breezes of the Palestinian night, ethereal mists blanket a sleeping landscape. Peeking from underneath the haze, grass and shrubs whistle quietly in the wind, singing a tranquil lullaby to the receding dusk. Joining nature’s symphony, murmurs of lowing sheep hail the arrival of twilight.
The scattered animals gradually converge at the shepherds’ beckoning, and both groups bed down before the glowing embers of the rapidly-fading fire. Remaining flames twinkle, mimicking their distant cousins suspended in the firmament.
As darkness envelops the shepherds, dusty eyes carefully and constantly scan the countryside for danger. But no amount of vigilance could have prepared them for the sudden appearance of a resplendent figure. The men drop to their knees in terror.
Without warning, an angel of the Lord announces with authority, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of a great joy which will be for all the people.”
The men squint at the shining glory. “Good news? Great joy? What could this be?”
Answering their thoughts, the angel speaks, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Suddenly, the angel is joined by hundreds of others, illuminating the entire panorama and shouting, “Glory to God in the highest!”
As quickly as the heavenly hosts appeared, they vanish, returning the night to its former serenity. But, the remaining individuals are not so quick to regain their calm. Their lives are forever changed – transformed by this “gospel,” ushered in by the Incarnation of the Son of God.
This Christmas, we too have the opportunity to celebrate and proclaim this birth. Yet, the child “wrapped in clothes” is not to be worshiped as One who remained in a manger. So often this can be the case in our homes and churches. And how tempting this can be to our wayward, self-centered souls! A baby is weak. A baby doesn’t demand changed lives. A baby doesn’t claim exclusive divinity.
But, our Lord Jesus Christ was, is, and remains the strong and only Lord – the Way, Truth, and Life – who transforms lives.
Christians are remiss, then, to allow the Christmas story to remain in the stable. As beautiful as Luke’s rendition is, it is much more than shepherds, swaddling clothes, and stars – much less Santa Claus, sleigh bells, and shopping malls. Instead, Christmas represents a momentous chapter in the complete story of God’s great redemptive work. And so, this chapter cannot be narrated without proclaiming the story’s entirety – from tiny baby to King.
This mere infant grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). This Child of David proclaimed the good news in the Spirit (Luke 4:18). This messianic King healed the sick – both spiritually and physically (Luke 5:17-26). This sacrificial Lamb died on a cross (Luke 23:46). This resurrected Lord conquered death (Luke 24:3). This eschatological Judge will come again (Acts 1:11).
Even in the remarkable initial verses of Luke’s Gospel, we find hints as to this ultimate culmination of the Christmas narrative.
Look at three aspects of the coming good news as hailed by the heavenly host in chapter 2. Luke relates that Jesus will bring great joy, will serve to fulfill God’s promises for a great Savior, and will ultimately restore great peace to a warring world.
First, while the great joy mentioned is not initially for Gentiles since “the people” points to Israel, we know from Luke’s later writings (particularly Acts) that the perimeter of participation in this joy will widen. And what a majestic joy the redeemed (both Jew and Gentile) will ultimately enjoy! This joy overcomes our fear – even as the fear of the shepherds was allayed. This joy conquers our immediate circumstance and suffering. This joy thrives even when we do not feel happiness.
The reason: The little baby would give God’s people an unspeakable heavenly joy in God’s salvation that shines forth even as the angels in the dark of that Christmas night.
Second, the angels, through the words of Luke, confirm our identification of the ground of the great joy – a great Savior, a messianic Deliverer, a King, born in the city of David.
The angelic praise explains the nature of this great Deliverer with a three-fold Christological title ascribed to Jesus – Savior, Lord, and Christ. Indeed, nowhere else in the New Testament do these appellations appear together. Each name has richness that goes beyond any exposition. They reach back into the Old Testament and also provide, as Darrell Bock in his commentary writes, “a literary foretaste of what is to come” in Luke’s Gospel. And we who have read the whole story know exactly how beautifully this baby will fulfill supremely each of these prophesied roles.
Third, the result of Jesus’ work as Lord, Savior, and Christ will be a great peace. The angels (v. 14) again provide hints of what Incarnation would eventually entail – an all-surpassing peace brought by the propitiatory sacrifice of a grown-up baby Jesus.
To whom shall this peace be given? Great peace will be among those to whom God has shown favor. This perfect peace is not yet in the earthly, horizontal dimension – though it one day will be. But, the baby Jesus eventually died to ensure melodious relationship in vertical dimension – between God and the chosen of His fallen creation.
So, we have, then, glimpses of the complete gospel song even in its first stanza – the Christmas story. Luke gives a promise of great joy because of a great Savior resulting in a great peace.
This Christmas, let us, like the shepherds, glorify and celebrate baby Jesus as the living Christ – who was, is, and shall be our Lord and Savior.
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