Summary: Because of Christmas we do not need to fear
[“The News” video]
We live in a world where there is certainly no shortage of news. We have ABC News, NBC News, CBS News and all their local affiliates. We have the Cable News Network and Fox News. We have the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Arizona Daily Star. And then on top of that almost all those news organizations have their own websites where we can get the news right up to the minute 24 hours a day.
And while all of those news outlets are unique in some ways, they tend to share pretty much all the same news stories. And as the video we just saw shows, most of that news is not good news.
Over 2,000 years ago, none of those news organizations even existed. There was no TV, no radio, no internet, no newspapers. But in Palestine the news of the day, even though it was communicated much differently than today, was really not much better, especially for the people who belonged to the commonwealth of Israel. They had no country of their own. They lived under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire who was openly hostile to them and their religion. And Judea, in particular was ruled by a tyrannical client king named Herod who had been given the title “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate.
Although Herod generally supported traditional Jewish laws, he had angered the Jews with acts like replacing the high priests with men of his own choosing, combining pagan forms of worship with traditional Jewish worship practices and exacting confiscatory taxes in order to support his lavish lifestyle. So living as a Jew under those circumstances was no easy task.
It was into that world that God chose to bring good news – lasting good news that is still good news for us over 2,000 years later. And when He did that, He announced that good news in a completely unexpected manner. He didn’t go to the religious leaders or to the political leaders or to the rich and famous. He chose instead to make His announcement to some lowly shepherds as they tended to their flocks. Here is how Luke records that event in his gospel account:
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 great 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.
(Luke 2:8-11 ESV)
Certainly we can all use some good news, so for the next three weeks leading up to Christmas I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to take some time to focus on various aspects of the good news of Christmas. As I was reading through the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Scriptures a few months ago when I was planning this sermon series, I was struck by the fact that there are several themes of good news that seem to be woven throughout those birth narratives. So rather than just focusing on a specific passage each week, we’re going to step back and take a broader look at those themes.
This morning we’ll begin with the first aspect of the good news – one that was quite evident in the passage we just read. I’m going to enlist your help in identifying that theme. What were the first words the angel spoke to the shepherds? [Wait for answers. That’s right – “Fear not…”
That was certainly an appropriate message to those shepherds wasn’t it? Can you imagine what was going through their minds that night? They were just tending their sheep like they did every other night when an angel of the Lord appears to them. As we’re going to see this morning, that wasn’t the first time an angel had appeared to someone in connection with the birth of Jesus. And the appearance of angels in relation to His incarnation is certainly significant. There had been no accounts of anyone seeing an angel for over 500 years and now all of a sudden there are multiple accounts of angels appearing on the scene to proclaim the birth of the Messiah.
Although we are not told specifically, it seems likely that this is another appearance of the angel Gabriel, who had appeared previously to Zechariah and Mary. And all of a sudden, here he is with these shepherds. The word that the ESV translates “appeared” in verse 9 literally means “to stand near”. So here these shepherds are, tending to their flocks when out of nowhere there is an angel standing near them. I don’t know about you, but I would sure be scared in that situation.