The Angelic Message
1. About two thousand years ago near around Bethlehem an out door gospel meeting was held. The preacher was an unnamed angel. Besides that there was also a choir of singers. They too were messengers from heaven. Since no leaflet guides were passed out ahead of time and nothing even came close to being said ahead of time about the meeting to be held, a crowd hadn't gathered. Instead of that, there were barely only a few shepherds who happened to be there. Rather than an audience we find there was an overwhelming number of singers in a choir. I'd say this was held for the shepherds who slept out in the open, right there where they lived every day.
2. The message that they heard is recorded in the scriptures in plain terms as follows: "Fear not. I am announcing great joy to be given to all the people. Today in the city of David the savior is born for you. He indeed is the Lord, the messiah. You will find the suckling child wrapped in cloth, sleeping in a manger. This is a sign for you," (verses ten through twelve).
3. So, after two thousand years on Christmas this same message is being given to us through the scriptures. Today as we put ourselves in the place of those shepherds who first heard this message, I would like for us to think together about what these words still mean.
4. "Fear not." This is the first part of the angelic message that the shepherds heard. When you ask why did they say "Fear not," it was because the shepherds were very afraid. Why were they afraid? Because the glory of the Lord was revealed all around them. It was the place where the shepherds were camping outdoors. It was the place of their work; it was the place of their day to day life. But, that was where the Lord God had come into. So with dazzling light he shone into their place of work, the place of their daily lives. This was dreadful.
5. Waiting hidden behind that light was a choir of angelic messengers. They revealed themselves shortly. We should not imagine them wearing gowns and flapping their wings. The choir members whom the shepherds had seen were wearing battle dress. More than that, they were called "the great heavenly army" (and not "the great flock of heaven!"). The great heavenly army or the armed forces from heaven means the power of God as related to this world. It is the military capability of God. It can bowl over the humans in society who scorn and stand against God, it can condemn this world of sin to judgment, send plagues, and even destroy the world in an instant. It is the power of God. This military capability of God made an appearance along with God's glory in the place of their individual daily lives, in the place of their work.
6. In Jewish religious society, shepherds were totally outsiders. Their work situation made it impossible for them to comply with ritual laws. Unable to keep the rituals of purity, they were viewed as religiously unclean. Thus, the presence of a holy God was totally remote for them. Since both the work of a shepherd and their daily lives were so profane, it was believed that they would never wonder about God in such a place. But, these men they way they were did have fear. They were very afraid because they knew that the glory of God was shining in on the field and that their daily lives were very much connected to God with his heavenly hosts.
7. When people remember and call on God only in time of need, and they only think of him as if some genie lying around in a magical Aladdin's lamp, people will never fear a god such as that. Or, like when many do in their visit to the shrines on New Year's, once a year, when they only have for their objective to ask for a good year, they will never fear any god of that sort. However, we won't be able to not fear God whenever we begin to see that God is really alive and at work in this world whether we remember that or not, whether we are conscious of him or not, and even more that he is a God who shines into our individual work places and into the places of our day to day lives and that he even intervenes into our very physical lives.
8. But, the message of "Fear not" was given to these persons who had been so very terrified. The divine messenger was not there for the purpose of making the shepherds afraid. He said, "I am announcing great joy to be given to all the people," (verse ten). If a person truly knows God, great joy, and not fear, is announced to the individual who is helplessly afraid. What is this all about?
The Savior Is Born
9. The messenger spoke as follows: "Today in the city of David the savior is born for you. He indeed is the Lord, the messiah.'" (verse eleven). This is the contents of "the great joy being given to all the people." It is the birth of the messiah whom the Israelites had been awaiting. It is the birth of the true king. The religionists may say, "What does the birth of the messiah have to do with you?" But, the divine messenger said, "The savior is born 'for you.'" Even the shepherds had something to do with him. They wouldn't forget [that]. The messiah, who had been born, was their savior too.
10. But, what does it really mean that the messiah is "your savior?" The kind of time period in which they had lived was a time period symbolized in the words at the very first part of chapter two. "In those days, an edict was issued from Caesar Augustus to inhabitants of each territory that they had to register," (2:1). The Israelites were under Roman rule. They were under the absolute authority of the emperor. With one edict the people had come to be forced into a long journey. Things happened like a worker who had been making a modest and honest living then had to go out on a trip taking along his wife at full term with the child about to be born any time now. With one imperial edict one's daily life came to be threatened. In order to be saved from such a tyrannous unreasonable organization, the imperial governmental system of Rome had to be dismantled for good. Would the messiah born in the city of David be the one to do battle with the Romans, to crush the Roman military might, to destroy the empire, and to set the people free? Would he be the one to win independence for the people of God, to set up the kingdom, and to reign himself as the king over the kingdom of God? But, the messenger of the Lord says something strange. He says, "You will find the suckling child wrapped in cloth, sleeping in a manger. This is a sign for you."
11. At this point once again we need to recall the imagery of the shepherds as they were gripped with a deep fear. Their image of trembling as they were illuminated by the light of God shows us whom we should truly fear. In other words, it shows us where the real crises for humanity come. They do not come from the Roman emperor. Neither do they come from the hard times we face or the specific situations that embroil each of us. That's hardly so, rather true crisis comes from God. It comes from God: he possesses the heavenly military, he is alive and at work with that power, he intervenes in the world where we live every day and holds our ultimate fate in his hands.
12. So, the reason humanity can't help but be afraid in the presence of God is that in his presence the sin of humanity becomes an issue. When God is only an object of worship that we seek once a year for a good year, then our sin doesn't become a situation. But, when God comes into our individual places of work and shines into the places of our daily living and right into our very beings, then our sins can't avoid being a problem. If you didn't have any sin [in your life], there wouldn't be any need to be afraid even if the glory of God were to shine all around you or the hosts of heaven were to appear. But, the real world isn't like that.
13. But to such as we are God gives this word today, "Today in the city of David the savior is born for you. He indeed is the Lord, the messiah." He will save us sinners. If we have experienced God truly, he will save us, helplessly afraid though we be. He will save us from sin and from destruction. By receiving the savior we will obtain joy and start not being in fear over God. The rule of a powerful God, the glory of God, the military might of God will turn to our joy.
14. The sign that he was this savior was "the suckling child wrapped in cloth, sleeping in a manger." The reason the baby was bedded down to sleep in a trough for cattle was that Mary was forced to go on the trip to Bethlehem even though she was pregnant. You might say it was because of their powerlessness such that the Romans couldn't help from not poking fun at them with their authority. Does this truth point to something far off? We'll know by reading the gospel story at about the end [of the book]. When the suckling child of the manger would soon grow up, he would become as a powerless man before the authority of the state just like both his parents had been and he would be crucified and killed as such. The manger, in which the suckling babe had been laid to sleep, symbolizes the child's whole life, which would terminate on a cross.
15. But, this same cross, the Bible says, is the cross of redemption for our sins, that saves us sinners, who are helplessly afraid in the presence of God. The cross is how we obtain peace with God and we become persons who live with joy and not with fear but under the great rule of God rather than under Roman authority. Yes, indeed. That nursing baby was certainly the savior of those people. He is also the savior of us living today.
16. "Hey, lets's go to Bethlehem. Why don't we see what happened, which the Lord has told us about?" They didn't just hear the angelic message. The words they heard drove them to action. They got up and rushed to the messiah just born. Then at last they located the nursing baby laid to sleep in the manger. Of course, with that they weren't transported to some painless world beyond. As ever, a painful daily life, a harsh workaday world was awaiting them. Yet, they "went home looking to God and giving him praise," (verse twenty). That they did. They had certainly begun to live with the joy of being with God.