The Sunday Before Christmas December 19, 2021
93, 84:1-4, 92, 79
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (NKJV)
In the name of the Christ-child, dear fellow redeemed,
Over the years the way news has been available has undergone quite an evolutionary process. It has gone from personal carriers to newsprint to telegraph to radio to television and finally to the internet. The dissemination of news has progressed to the point that we can now receive live news coverage from all over the world. And we can access this news anywhere at any time.
Astounding as the modern technology of transmitting news has become, sad to say very often the kind of news conveyed on a daily basis is bad news. We receive news reports of terrorist attacks, nation warring against nation, economic woes, political disputes and oppression, sickness and disease, crime in the streets and in the corporate world, natural disasters and so on.
It is rather distressing to hear and read about bad news day after day. And with a steady flow of such reports, people begin to wonder if there is any good news left in the world. While there is certainly still some good news to be reported, the fact remains that bad news predominates and not simply because the news media thinks bad news attracts more attention, but rather because our world is infected with the pervasive condition of sinfulness. With a steady diet of negative news, we yearn and long to hear some good news to brighten our day and our lives.
One kind of joyous news is birth announcements. This kind of report gladdens our hearts, because it tells of God’s gift of new life. But as happy as such news may be, it generally only gladdens the hearts of family, acquaintances, and not many more, unless of course it’s published on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. There is, however, one birth announcement made many years ago that should still cheer and gladden hearts of everyone the world over. This special birth announcement offers new joy, new life, and new hope to the world’s population of every generation. That birth announced so many years ago is of Jesus Christ.
The manner in which Jesus’ birth was reported was truly spectacular and even more so than any modern day means of broadcasting news. On the night of that unique birth, the hill country outside the little town of Bethlehem was all aglow with the glory of the Lord shining brightly. This brilliant light, which ordinarily accompanied the appearance of God in Bible times, was on this occasion attending one of His heavenly angelic messengers.
This celestial sight would ordinarily strike fear and terror in human hearts, because being in the presence of a holy being mortal man is made conscious of his own sinful and lost condition. And yet, all fears are removed from sin-burdened hearts, because the angel of the Lord made an announcement of a very special and unique kind of birth. Many in this world would ask, ‘How could a birth announcement cast out all fears from human hearts?’ The angels tells how this could be by declaring, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (vv.10,11)
It is the birth of our Savior who drives out all fears from sin-corrupted hearts. This newborn Savior sets us free from the fear of God’s anger and condemnation which we feel on account of our sinfulness. He delivers us from this inborn dread by taking away the guilt of all our sins and our deserved punishment through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. He removes the fear of not being loved or accepted by God, for when Jesus came into this world for our redemption, He gave evidence of God’s infinite, unconditional love for us. And as we put our faith and trust in Jesus as our Savior, God freely accepts us as His dear children in whom He is delighted and as His heirs of eternal life in heaven.
Jesus calms our troubled hearts whenever we are fearful of being left alone, forsaken and unprotected, because Jesus has promised to always be with us. Jesus liberates us from the dark and gloomy fears that come from the various troubles in this life, for He is always there for us to comfort and sustain us through His revealed Word. And finally and ultimately He removes from us the fear of death, because we know by faith that on account His work of salvation we possess the sure and certain hope of eternal life in heaven.
This Jesus is able to do all this for us and more, because as the angel testified of Him, He is Christ the Lord. Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah whom God the Father said He would send to give us life and salvation. As the Lord God, Jesus possessed divine power to fully accomplish all He purposed to perform for our spiritual and eternal welfare, as well as for our physical and temporal well-being.
Now, when the shepherds came to the animal shelter in Bethlehem shortly after receiving the angelic birth announcement, to their human eye the little baby Jesus didn’t look like the promised Lord and Christ. But what they couldn’t detect with their physical eye the Holy Spirit gave them a spiritual eye of faith to behold Him as their Savior God. During His ministry Jesus gave ample proof of Him being the promised Lord and Christ through His preaching with great power and authority, and His performance of divine miracles. While we have heard of this from the Bible, like the shepherds it is the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word that has blessed us with the gift of believing that that baby born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago is the promised Christ who is our Lord and Savior God.
The birth announcement of our Savior Jesus Christ is truly good news of great joy. Unlike the mundane news of this earthly life which can become old and uninteresting after a short while, the joyous news of our Savior’s birth gladdens our hearts every single day of our lives. Each and every day that we stumble and fall into some kind of sin, we rejoice that Jesus came into this world as our Savior so that He could daily pick us up with His forgiving love, wash off our sins and direct our footsteps on the pathway that lead to eternal life in heaven. Because of this great blessing, we never grow tired of the gladsome news of our Savior’s coming into this world for us.
Now, anytime there is some good news reported very often it is viewed as being good for only a certain segment of society or for a certain race or nation. For example, the announcement of the end of a war between two nations is good news for the victor, but not for the defeated when brought into subjugation. Whereas the birth announcement the angel of the Lord made on that blessed night so many years ago is good news not only for some people, but for all people. The angel made this very clear when he declared, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (v.10)
Because God so loved the whole world, He gave His only begotten Son to engage in a spiritual warfare with our enemies of sin, death, and the devil for all the sinners in this world. And when Jesus gained the victory through His life, death, and resurrection, God the Father declared everyone forgiven of all sin through Jesus Christ. Therefore because of this great victory, we shall not perish eternally, but rather have everlasting life in heaven. This is the reason of the great joy for all people. And this is the reason we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.
In the many centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus, there were countless believers looking forward to this glorious event including the angels. In 1 Peter we read, “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” (1:10-12)
Because of this eager anticipation of the angels in Jesus’ coming to bring eternal salvation for sinful mankind, when Jesus finally came, they were also filled with great joy and rejoiced in the Lord. On that night of all nights the skies above the hills outside of Bethlehem were lit up with the radiant glow of thousands upon thousands of angels. This heavenly sight most certainly far outshines any spectacle we shall ever witness in this world, with the exception of Jesus’ coming with His holy angels on the last and final day of this world to usher us into the new heavenly world.
With their angelic voices this heavenly host filled the evening air with resounding words of praise to God the Father. In unison they exclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (v.14) The angels were glorifying and praising God for showing such great love and good will for all sinners by sending His only Son to redeem us. They spoke of a special kind of peace that we experience through Jesus Christ, namely a blessed peace with God in the knowledge of sins forgiven through Jesus and a glorious peace in knowing that one day we will dwell with God and all the company of heaven in the eternal realms of glory.
Whenever we are distressed by the sad and bad news we hear in the world about us, think of the joyous news the angel brought to the Bethlehem shepherds on that first Christmas day. This good news will always cheer our hearts, for it is the message of God’s great love for us. The birth of our Savior is good news both now and forever. Rejoice in it and sing songs of praise to God who has so graciously blessed us through Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.