Summary: The traditional theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is Joy. This sermon, originally prepared for that Sunday, is based on the Angel’s message to the Shepherds in Luke 2, "I Bring You Good Tidings of Great Joy."
Good Tidings of great Joy
What would be your response if you suddenly had an encounter with one of heaven’s angels? Angels are super beings; they are more powerful and intelligent that we are, but they are not omnipotent and omniscient like God. Therefore, it is only natural for any human being who encounters an angel to be “greatly afraid.”
The shepherds were not the only persons to be “greatly afraid” when they encountered one of God’s heavenly messengers. Both Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptizer, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, reacted in similar fashion. In the case of Zachariah Luke tells us: When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him” [Luke 1:13]. With Mary it was not quite as traumatic, but Luke 1:30 tells us, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” What a calming effect the words of the Angel in all three instances must have been, as He reassured those He visited, “Fear not.”
Whenever sinful people enter into the glorious presence of our holy God, it is intuitive to react in fear. The shepherds were surrounded by “the glory of the Lord.” They were overcome by His inherent majesty, His power, His greatness, and His authority as Creator and King of the Universe. His holiness is also a part of His glory; and oftentimes the holiness of God and the glory of God are synonymous. Holiness is purity in character, and when applied to God it denotes His perfect purity.
In contrast to God’s perfect, moral purity, all human beings are sinful creatures, and holiness and sin simply can not co exist side by side. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah also encountered the glory and holiness of the Lord: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of His robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above Him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory.’
“The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” Isaiah’s response was much the same as the shepherds: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Only the grace of God can calm His peoples’ fear when they encounter His holiness and glory. With Isaiah one of the seraphs cleansed his lips with a live coal from heaven’s altar, and reassured him, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” With Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds God’s reassuring grace came in the words, “Fear not.”
The shepherds’ fears were calmed because the angel brought them “Good tidings of great joy.” Their joy was centered in the Person of the Saviour Who had been born in the City of David, and this joy was meant not only for them but for “all people.” God intends for all of us to live in this same joy.
The theme of the Third Sunday in Advent is “joy.” This joy is symbolized by the lighting of the pink or rose candle. The purple candles stress the theme of “penitence and fasting”; pink or rose invites us to concentrate more on the joy of celebrating the Season. What is this joy that the Saviour brings not only to the shepherds but to all who open their hearts to Him?
Jesus is the source of the shepherds’ joy and of ours as well. Note these important parts of the angel’s message. “A Saviour has been born.” “He is God’s gift to all people.” “He is the long promised Messiah of Israel.” The new born Saviour is the fulfillment of the Promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That was the first promise in Scripture that the Messiah of Israel, the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would be the Saviour of all humankind.
God chose the Jews to give all the nations the only Saviour of the world. I love the way Paul shares this truth in Romans 15:8-12 so clearly, especially as translated by Messianic Rabbi David H. Stern in THE COMPLETE JEWISH BIBLE: “For I say that the Messiah became a servant of the Jewish people in order to show God’s truthfulness by making good His promises to the Patriarchs, and in order to show His mercy by causing the Gentiles to glorify God—as it is written in the Tanakh,