GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAINS (LUKE 2:8-20)
The two weekends before Christmas are the busiest days of the year for the mall and the stores, for ordering and mailing, and for dining and catering. In Southern California alone, more than 20 million cards and letters and 1.5 million packages are postmarked the usual third Monday of December before Christmas (Los Angeles Times 12/18/01).
The American Express Retail Index, in its survey of consumers in 2001, projected that the average will spend about $1,564 per household for gifts, travel, entertaining, decorations and other expenses this year.
Every year consumers make December the busiest month of the year, and make Christmas the biggest party of the year, all for the wrong reasons. The first Christmas was a busy season. The Christmas shepherds were in a big hurry, too. On a quiet night in the country outside of Bethlehem, an angel appeared to shepherds who were watching their flock to tell them the good news. After hearing what the angels told them, the shepherds then made haste to Bethlehem to find and see and know baby Jesus for themselves.
What did the Christmas angel say? Why were the shepherds in such a rush? What is our thrill and task at this time of the year?
Christmas is the Unveiling of Great Pleasure
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Lk 2:8-12)
Christmas is not all it is made be to be. A lot of people would rather skip the festivities altogether. 63% of respondents to a 1998 Dateline NBC/Prevention Magazine Holiday Stress survey said they felt pressure to do things they did not want to do during the holidays, and 64% reported feeling nervous and stressed about the entire season. The seasonal stress has a name to it: SAD for “seasonal affective disorder,” or what people used to call the “winter blues.”
Money was the biggest stress factor, of course: 72 percent worry about money at least some time during the holidays. Even though a good 15 percent always dread the holiday season, 9 percent end up having a good time anyway. Just 6 percent of participants manage to hang on to that dread right through the New Year’s celebrations. Naturally holiday stress is more prevalent the farther north you go, with 1 percent to 5 percent of those living in middle to northern latitudes reporting SAD symptoms. Women, particularly young adults, account for 60 percent to 90 percent of those affected by this seasonal pattern of depression. (“Dear Data Dog,” American Demographics, Dec. 2000)
The angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord “shone around” (peri-lampo) them (v 9), terrifying the shepherds. This Greek word for “shone around” occurs only twice in the Bible, the other time describing Paul’s experience on the road when he saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, “blazing around” him (Acts 26:13). The first New Testament evangelist, technically, was not John the Baptist (Lk 3:18), but the Christmas angel. This is the first time the verb “euaggelizo” or “evangelize” (v 10) appears in the New Testament. NIV clumsily translated the word as “I bring you good news.”
The Greek text used the word fear twice to describe how the shepherds felt at the angel’s sudden appearance: The shepherds “feared” (phobeo) a great fear (phobos megas)!” (v 9) But the angel did not come to strike great fear, but in contrast, to spread great joy or “chara megas” (v 10). Christmas is the proclamation of not just joy, but great joy, one of only two great joys associated with Christ - great joy at his birth (Luke 2:10, Matt 2:10) and great joy at his resurrection (Luke 24:52, Matt 28:8).
The great joy of Christmas is the birth of the baby Jesus, the Savior, the Christ, the Lord. He is the Christ, the Promise, the Anointed One, or the Coming Messiah, whose birth was prophesied in the Old Testament. In Micah 5:2, the promise of a ruler in Israel would come from Bethlehem. The word Lord is a recurring word in this passage (vv 9, 9, 11, 15). He is our Lord, the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8), Lord Almighty (2 Cor 6:18), the Lord of lords (Rev 17:14).