The angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them…. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
This was the first Christmas message; this is what the shepherds on that night heard, straight from heaven, about the wonderful events that were unfolding in a stable not far from where they were. Jesus Christ was born!
Further on in the Gospel, we hear that the shepherds, after they had visited the manger, “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
This was the first Christmas message. It was a message of encouragement (“Do not be afraid”) and a message of hope (“a savior has been born”); all their longing for God had been fulfilled in the birth of a little baby. Strange, yes; but this was the message that brought them such great joy. And after they had seen for themselves, they proclaimed that message to others as they went.
This was also the last Christmas message that they heard. Never again for those shepherds were there angels. Never was there the glory of the Lord shining around them as they watched the sheep at night. Never again did they see such a marvelous sight as they did that one night. However, this one message – this one-time proclamation of that “good news of great joy” – was enough for the shepherds. The Savior was born, God was with us, the world was beginning to be created anew. Some of them would not live to hear of the events thirty or so years later in Jerusalem, when a man thought the be the Messiah would be put to death. They wouldn’t have heard that this same man then appeared to His disciples three days later and then sent them out to proclaim that same Good News that transforms the world.
The shepherds only knew that God had shared something very special with them that night; and it touched their hearts and changed their outlook. Now, they too were people who went about with a joyful message on their lips; who knew that the world now had a Savior and that God had visited His people.
All because of one message.
If we could go forth from this place with the same joy – the same urge to proclaim the good news of great joy – to the world, then you and I would never need to hear this story again. We would be living it; and by living it, we would be sharing it with others and actually making disciples. Our entire lives would be worship and an offering of praise to God.
However, that is probably not the case for us. In fact, this might be the first message of good news and great joy we have heard all year. It might be the last one that we hear for many more months (Easter is late this year!). This day is our chance to hear the angels again – maybe for the first time, maybe for the first time in a while, maybe for the eightieth time. And the message remains the same. In a world of darkness, violence, doubt, and fear, God breaks in and sheds His glorious light into our hearts. He reminds us that He – and onlyHe– is the fulfilment of our desires, our longings, our restlessness. We may look in many other places, but here is the true meaning of our lives: Jesus Christ.
That first Christmas message is the proclamation of the Gospel: that people in darkness have seen a great light; that God loves the world so much that He becomes one of us, sharing our pain, fear, and joys, by giving us His only Son as our Savior.
We don’t know if this is the last time we will hear this message of joy. Last year, it was for some of our family and friends, and that can tint this festive season with a bit of sadness. However, we also know that we are here now, hearing this message for the first or fifty-fifth time. Can we be like the shepherds, who heard it only once, and went forth praising and glorifying God, sharing that joy and peace with everyone they encountered? This is the heart of discipleship: that we are touched by God’s message of love and we are compelled to go out and tell everyone. If each day of our lives were like that, then we would need to hear it ever again.
However, we do hear it. We hear it today, loud and clear: Jesus is born, and the world is transformed into a place where we will meet Him. Let’s go and help others know Him too.