Christmas starts long before Jesus' birth. It starts with prophetic promises and angels visits. This year as I get close to Christmas I've been thinking about the angel visits,
- with an old man, Zechariah, serving God in the temple (Luke 1:5-25),
- with a man planning on walking away from an engagement (Matthew 1:18-25),
- with a young woman who wondered how she could be one who would give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38),
- last to shepherds out at work watching sheep in the night (luke 2:8-15).
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9 NRSVGod's glory surrounded them. Terror grabbed hold of them. The glory of God--the God of angel armies overwhelmed them. It shines in every dark place in our world and our lives. It shines for all the world to see. It shines to illumine the way to life ever lasting. It shines revealing our every sin and to show us the savior who comes for us. God's glory shone so bright the shepherds knew fear in every shred of their being. And the angel spoke right to their fear.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 NRSVA Savior is born for you. For me this is the heart of the good news. Without this word, this promise of who Jesus is for me and you, I don't know why we'd celebrate Christmas. A savior has been born for us. That means something for us. It means God comes to save us from everything that we can't defeat on our own. On our own we are no match for sin, death, and the works of evil. Jesus comes because we know too well that we can't defeat these old enemies. He comes because as hard as we can work we can't get right--not with God or our neighbors. We fight as hard as we can but we can't undo any of our past sins and wrongs. Try hard as we can and we stumble and fail again. Broken promises, broken commandments, broken relationships lay in our pasts. And the angel says a savior has been born for you and me. That's good news. I need a savior. That's good news because all the sins and shames and the failures are real--and so is the salvation that Jesus brings.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12 NRSVThe baby is our hope. But there's a temptation for long time believers in Advent and Christmas: to think we know the story already. If we think we know the story we'll miss it. It's tempting to think we've read it all and heard it all before. Old traditions and customs often define the meaning of the story. But maybe these customs set neat and tidy limits for how far God can go. So today let word and the mystery of God's coming get close to you. We come to this great event for all time with hope. God is still at work doing new things with us and for us. So rather than moving right along with all our Christmas traditions let's take in the story and remember that Jesus has come for you and me. Luke writes,
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Luke 2:13 NRSVThe angels sang praise for the one to come. A child is coming for you sing gloria. This child will grow to heal and preach with power, shout Alleluia. This child will stand up for the forgotten and the down trodden. He will heal the untouchable. He will come into the heart of the nation as a savior. The people will cry out hosanna. And he will die--taking the sin of the world--the power of death--and all the forces of evil on himself. He comes revealing God's glory. He comes to be our savior.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15 NRSVThis year I want to go back to the heart of the story. To the good news that a savior has come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John