Summary: The angels share "good news" with the lowly shepherds near Bethlehem, and Christ's birth continues to be good news for all people everywhere!
Perhaps some of you have seen that wonderful play, The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever. In the play, the appropriately named Herdman family, full of rowdy children, hi-jack a children’s Christmas pageant, taking all the choice roles by intimidation and force. Needless to say, those Herdman kids want the titles more than anything, and on the night of the performance, the pageant quickly degenerates into chaos. As parents, siblings, and grandparents sit uncomfortably in the audience watching the play unravel, they along with the director, undoubtedly start to wonder if anything good can come from such a mess. Just then, then youngest Herdman, who plays the angel announcing the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds, yells out over the din, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exactly right, but still it was “good news.”
Tonight, we celebrate “Good News”; the good news of Christ’s birth, which was shared first with some shepherds in a field not too far from Bethlehem. As we consider the good news of Christ’s birth this evening, I want us to do so through the lens of the angel’s announcement, and the shepherds who heard it. Because here’s the thing, good news is only good news if we receive it as good news.
A few years ago, the late night host Jimmy Kimmel challenged his viewers to give their children a terrible Christmas gift and then record them opening the gift. I want to share with you this evening just a little bit of the video that resulted from that challenge. Let’s watch:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4a9CKgLprQ Run: 0:39-1:42
You know, “good news” is kind of relative, isn’t it? I bet those little kids were beyond excited when their parents told them they could open up a Christmas gift early. To them, no doubt, that was exceptionally good news; however, once they got the gifts opened, they weren’t so excited. Suddenly, what seemed like good news wasn’t all that great anymore. But did you catch that clip where the kid got the hot dog? He wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it, but the dog sure was! That hot dog was good news for at least one of the little ones in that house!
It may not always be perfect, and it certainly may not come in the ways we expect. But thankfully, the great good news of Jesus’ birth can still cut through the disappointments of our daily lives, the noise of our distracted culture, and even our own restless souls. And what I want us to see and to understand here is that each of us approaches the manger tonight from a different perspective. We come here from different life circumstances, dealing with different difficulties, celebrating different joys, longing for God’s presence in different ways. But still, there is good news for each of us if only we will listen and understand.
As we have prepared for this Christmas Eve, we have taken time each Sunday to hear the songs of praise that people sang so long ago when they first heard the news of the Messiah’s coming birth. Mary sang about how through her son, God would exalt the lowly. Zechariah celebrated the light of God in Christ that would shine and finally dispel the darkness of the world. And tonight, we hear the song of the angels, the great heavenly host. This “first carol of Christmas” is significant for two reasons, because of who the angels first shared the news with, and because of what they said about the child who had been born that night.
The story of that first Christmas night marks the fourth appearance of an angel in the Christmas story. The first three appearances were all announcements relating to Jesus’ coming birth, or that of his cousin, John the Baptist. This fourth appearance is also an announcement, but now the news is that Christ has been born! “Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” That’s quite a declaration, isn’t it? It sounds to me like the sort of herald that would go out across an empire upon the arrival of the next heir to the throne. But here’s the thing, when the angel went out to share the news of Christ’s birth, he didn’t go across the empire with a formal herald. He didn’t even go just down the road to the big city of Jerusalem. The angel went out in the fields to a bunch of lowly shepherds, and I do mean lowly. In ancient Israel, shepherds were considered among the lowest in society—they were viewed as dingy and rowdy ruffians. And yet they are the ones to receive the first announcement of the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The angel says, “I bring good news to YOU—wonderful, joyous news for ALL people.”