The Sunday after Christmas December 31, 2000
76, 85, 90, 94
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Here ends our text.
In the Name of the Christ-Child, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
"No news is good news!”—That’s a phrase we’ve all used from time to time. We usually say it when there’s a possibility of something bad happening. When someone you love is seriously ill, and you’re afraid they might get worse, then no news is good news. When you’re close to over-drawing your checking account, and you’re not quite sure which is going to get to the bank first—your paycheck or your personal checks—then no news is good news. When April 15th rolls around and you mail in your tax return, the last thing you want to hear about is that you’re going to be audited—then, especially, no news is good news!
It was the same for those shepherds there in the fields outside of Bethlehem. For them, no news was good news. They’d be perfectly happy if the night passed uneventfully; if no predators tried to attack the flock, and if none of the sheep wandered away and got lost. But this particular night wasn’t going to pass uneventfully. Tonight they were in for a bit of news. It turned out to be very good news, though—for them, and for us. In fact, when all was said and done, I think the shepherds would agree with us that, in the words of our theme:
Someone once said that “The greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.” We can only imagine the unknowing fear that must have gripped those poor shepherds when the angel appeared to them. Up until then, the night had no doubt been business as usual for them; it was probably pretty boring work. We can imagine a couple of the shepherds lounging around their campfire, keeping one eye on the flock while the others dozed. All was quiet—everything was peaceful—and the morning must have seemed a long way away. Suddenly, an angel stood before them, and a brilliant white light flooded the place where they were sitting. Instantly, all the shepherds were wide awake. Wide awake—and trembling with fear!
At first, they must just have been frightened by the startling appearance that met their eyes. But I’m sure it didn’t take them long to realize that this figure was an angel, a messenger sent from the Almighty God. And that really scared them! They reacted in the way that we’ve seen people throughout the Bible react when they come face-to-face with the messengers of the Lord: they shook with fright. They probably fell down trembling in front of the angel.
What’s the first thing the angel said to them? Fear not! How very significant! The angel spoke words of reassurance to them. After all, he hadn’t come to frighten them—just the opposite. He wanted to wipe out their fear. He came to bring them good news. And not just “good” news, really, but the best possible news there could be. The Savior of the world was born!
Fear not!—Those words are for us, too. We’ve got plenty to be afraid of in this new century we’re facing—the stability of the economy, the security of our jobs, the care and protection of our loved ones. We face these and a thousand other fears every day of our lives. And especially now, when so many things in our world seems to be changing. But perhaps our most deep-seated fear is the fear of sin. Every day we fall short of God’s righteous commandments. Every day the reality of our sin comes home to us, confronts us, gnaws away at our consciences. It’s the fear of sin that makes us frightened of God, too. Frightened that, when the inevitable Day of Judgement arrives, we just won’t make the grade. If we think about it long enough, we can easily become terrified of this God, this God who in His Law demands perfect righteousness, flawless obedience.
Fear not! the angel says to you. The Savior is born. Jesus has come to wipe out your fear. He’s come to put your mind at ease; to give you the peace of a clear conscience. “Though your sins are like scarlet,” your Savior says, “they shall be white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Is 1:18. Lay all your sins upon Me, he says. I have freed you from them. Take My perfect righteousness for yourself; with that righteousness, heaven isn’t just a possibility for you—it’s a certainty!
Aren’t these “good tidings of great joy?” Isn’t this Good News? Could any news be better News than this? This is the happy news that drives out fear. For a Christian, the sanctification God works in us through the Gospel of Jesus is like a clear stream flowing into a muddy pond; the more fresh water that comes in, the clearer and less muddy the water gets. The more of God’s Gospel Good News that we take into our lives, the more our fear is replaced by confidence, our doubt by hope. Soon, even stubborn sinners like you and me begin to get the message—with Christ as our Savior, there simply is nothing left to fear! We can trust our Lord for everything. We can safely put our whole life into the hands of Him who says in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Is 41:10.
No news could be better news! But maybe you’re still not convinced. Despite everything, perhaps you still have a nagging feeling about your sinfulness. I really think this is one of Satan’s most effective weapons against Christians. At least I know it works on me! He’ll let you believe that the Christ-Child really was the Son of God. If he has to, he’ll even allow that Jesus died to take away sin. “But your sins,” he whispers to you sadly, “Oh, no! Your sins are too big, too many, they’ve been going on too long. This salvation wasn’t meant for you!”
My Christian friends, that’s a lie. Don’t listen to Satan. Listen to the Good News of the angel: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour. There’s something here that is important for us to notice. Who were the first people to receive the Good News of the Savior’s birth? It didn’t come to the kings and princes of the royal families of Israel. The angels didn’t appear to the chief priests and religious leaders. The message came to these lowly shepherds. Workers! Regular folks like you and me! They were plain, everyday people like us, who surely had their own doubts and fears, who felt weighed down under their own burden of sins. By choosing these humble shepherds to be the first to receive the news, God was making a point—the same point Jesus Himself made when He said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Yes, the message of the Savior was for those humble shepherds; and yes, the message is for you, too. The Good News of Jesus’ birth is meant especially for YOU!
It was Christmas Eve, in a small town much like this one, and the town drunk was at his usual occupation—which was, naturally, getting drunk. After several hours, and much too much to drink, he wandered out of town down a country road. The next thing he remembered, it was morning, and he had the feeling of lying in a comfortable bed, with something warm and cozy nearby. He opened his eyes, and it finally dawned on him that he had fallen asleep in a barn; he was lying on a bed of straw, next to a warm cow. Then he heard bells ringing, and he suddenly remembered that it was Christmas morning. It set him thinking. “What was that story about the shepherds—the angels—and a manger?” After all, he wasn’t the first one to sleep in a stable. A wonderful thought struck him: “Maybe the reason He slept in a stable was so He could help even a person like me—someone who’s fallen too low for anyone else to help.” That Christmas morning, one man knelt in a stable and said the prayer of the publican: “Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner!”
The Christmas Gospel was for him—and it’s for you, too. There is no barrier high enough to keep God’s love out of your life. No shame too deep for your Savior to forgive; no sin so great that the blood of Christ can’t cover it—hasn’t, indeed, already covered it long ago! Yes, the Good news of Jesus’ birth is meant specifically for you. So rejoice! Be happy in the knowledge that, like those humble shepherds, you too have been singled out to receive the glad tidings of a Savior. And I think you’ll agree—that no news could be better news!
The shepherd’s moment of fear was turned into the greatest joy. They could hardly take in the wonder of it. They were so happy, I’m sure they could hardly think what to do next after the angels had gone away from them into heaven. But it didn’t take them long to decide. In a moment, conviction turned into action. They said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Lk 2:15. Let’s you and I go there, too. Let’s worship our newborn King, and marvel at the unsearchable gift of God’s love. This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.