“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’” Luke 2:8-14 (NIV)
I can remember as a kid (and later as an adult) listening to Linus recite those words (probably from the KJV) as we watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Amidst all the chaos of the Peanuts gang trying to put together a Christmas play, an exasperated Charlie Brown cries out, “Can anyone tell me the meaning of Christmas?!!!” It’s then that Linus responds by quoting from Luke’s account of the incarnation. As we roll into Christmas once again it seems we find ourselves in the midst of more chaos. The pandemic may have eased off but it seems we’re stuck with chronic inflation, wars and rumors of wars and enough social nonsense to make one wonder if “peace on earth” is even a remote possibility.
We have a tendency to believe that our moment in time is historically unique but the era that our Lord entered into shares many similarities to ours. In fact, in many respects, life was far more brutal, far more difficult. Justice was rare, corruption was rampant, crime was prevalent and war was common. The Romans had managed to create what they dubbed “The Pax Romana,” the Peace of Rome. It was an enforced peace, a peace based on fear and intimidation where strife, hatred and conflict continually roiled under the surface. Thus, there was a level of orderliness but true peace was no where to be found.
Then one night, on a hill outside the town of Bethlehem, an angel appears to some shepherds and says, “Hey y’all, I’ve got some good news….” The Gospel of Jesus is first and foremost a proclamation, an announcement of something that has been done for us. It is not instruction about what we must do. This is part of what makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world. The founders of the other religions came saying that they would show us what must be done to get in touch with the divine. The Gospel says that God has come in the person of His Son, Jesus the Christ, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He came to bring us peace…with God. First and foremost we need peace with God. The lack of peace with God, rebelling against Him and His rightful rule over those He has created, is the reason for our lack of peace with one another. We don’t love the One who made us so we are unable to love those He has made. Jesus came to change that.
It’s good news that Jesus has come and lived perfectly, loving God with all His being and loving His neighbor as Himself. Thus He is able to give to those who believe a right standing before the Father, one that we could never earn on our own. It’s good news that He has come as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, paying in full the debt we owe, suffering the punishment that we deserved so that by faith in Him we are cleansed of the guilt and shame of our sin, set free from the death that it brings. It’s good news that He is raised from the dead, securing for us a new life empowered by His Holy Spirit and making good on all the promises of God. It’s good news that one day He will return and gather us to Himself, making us and everything else new and alive in a way that we can only begin to imagine now. This is the Good News that the angel proclaimed on that holy night so long ago. It’s the same Good News that we can carry into this Christmas season to a world that desperately needs it.
May you and yours have a wonderful, joyful and truly peaceful Christmas!