Read Luke 2:8-20
I have read this story of the birth of Jesus many times, yet I have never grown tired of it. I love to read it again and again and imagine this remarkable series of events. Picture this event with me.
The scene is an evening in a field where shepherds were watching their sheep—the sort of context that ordinarily wouldn’t draw our attention or interest, because nothing remarkable would be associated with it. I love to imagine the quiet of the evening, probably interrupted by nothing more than an occasional cough, or sniff, or whisper from a shepherd, or perhaps the occasional bleat or shuffle from among the sheep that lay scattered on the field around them.
I imagine that the moon hung brightly in the sky, giving a pale highlight to the field, and flocks, and faces of the shepherds. I imagine that a cool breeze blew slightly, and perhaps there was warm, red glow of embers and the smell of smoke from a slowly-dying campfire. My guess is that it would have been very hard to stay awake in such a night-time setting.
But then, I try to picture what it must have been like for the area around the shepherds to have lit up without warning—brighter than stadium lights could make it—with the glory of the Lord. I try to imagine this mighty angel suddenly standing before them, and I try to imagine the sound of his voice as he spoke to them, seeking to calm them down enough to hear his crucial message. I try to imagine what it must have been like to hear a multitude of angels from heaven praising God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (v. 14)!
The scene that night went from serene darkness and quiet to unexpected, unearthly brightness and joyous, awesome loudness in a matter of seconds! What a shock it must have been to these poor shepherds! All this was having a traumatic effect on them, but in spite of their great fear, their final reaction to it all was wonderfully positive. They recognized the news that was brought to them as good news of great joy. In fact, they responded to this news by running to Bethlehem in haste to “see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (v. 15). And afterwards, they returned, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (v. 20).
Good News is Needed
As sinners, we desperately need to hear good news from God. But the fact of the matter is that we don’t deserve good news from Him. He is a holy God who has a right to expect our obedience and worship. But we’ve neither worshiped Him or obeyed Him as we should. Instead, we have often withheld the thanks and worship He deserves, have often shaken our fists at Him in arrogance, and have often disobeyed His clear commandments. If anything, we deserve judgment, not mercy.
But that’s what’s so wonderful about this birth announcement. It’s a message from a holy and righteous God, sent by a mighty angel—and it’s a message of “good tidings.” This birth announcement is good news of great joy, because the One who is born is the One who brings us into the greatest experience of joy possible. Because of this Child whose birth was being announced, those who live under the bondage of spiritual darkness can now be delivered and brought into the kingdom of life and light. Because of Him, those who live in guilt and shame because of their sins can now be washed clean and declared sons and daughters of God. Because of Him, those who have lived their whole lives in the fear of death and judgment can now live with hope in the prospect of glory. As the apostle Peter wrote: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Good News for Everyone
Notice, too, that it’s good tidings of great joy “which shall be to all people” (v. 10). It isn’t good news that will result in joy for the shepherds alone—it’s good news to all people of all nations. There isn’t a different Savior for different groups of people. There is only one. Jesus’ birth is the good tidings of great joy for all nations and peoples, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Peace between God and man can’t happen until the cause of the enmity between them is taken out of the way. That cause of our enmity with God is something of our own making—sin. And until the barrier of sin is taken out of the way, we cannot have peace with God—nor any kind of lasting peace with each other.
That’s another reason why this birth announcement is so significant. It’s the announcement that the Savior from sins has been born. It’s an announcement that the Son of God has been born into the human family to pay the price for our sins on His cross. It’s the announcement that real peace is finally possible: peace, first of all, between man and God, and then peace between people. As Paul wrote, “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
Good News for You
I hope you take some time to read and meditate on this passage of Scripture. As you do, I hope you enjoy putting yourself in that scene and imagining the details. But, more importantly, I hope you will respond to it correctly. It’s a story that demands a response. I suggest that this passage teaches us how we should react to the birth announcement that the shepherds received:
• Like them, we should look into it with great eagerness and excitement. Because, if it’s true, then it’s the greatest news mankind has ever heard.
• We should think carefully about these things, keep them, and ponder them in our hearts as Mary did. We should let the truth of this great Christmas announcement sink deeply into us and transform us.
• We should also make it known to others, as the shepherds did. God has seen our need and has provided us with a Savior. He has come! News this good is too good to keep to ourselves.
• Finally, we should celebrate it. We should go back to our lives as transformed people—people who glorify and praise God for all the things He has done for us through giving us His wonderful Son Jesus Christ.