And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)
The title of this article is the first line of a popular Christmas Carol written by Nahum Tate, 1652-1715.
1: While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground;
the angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around,
and glory shone around.
It depicts the annunciation to shepherds of the birth of Christ which we celebrate as Christmas. Christmas is the most celebrated religious festival in the world and as the centuries have gone on, the festival is no longer observed by Christians alone. Today you have people from all religious persuasions marking the day in one shape or form, helped in part by the commercialized undertones of the season.
Around this time of the year there are feelings of happiness and cheer in the air. The stores are filled with all sorts of merchandize and Christmas decorations are everywhere to help make the season a merry one. But the question still remains, what is it about the season we are celebrating?
Is Christmas really worth the funfair?
One of my favourite Christmas pastimes is to let my mind wander to first century Bethlehem, just to put myself in the shoes of the first celebrants of Christmas, because until we capture their reason for celebrating Christmas, we may never truly appreciate what the season should really be about especially, in our 21st century commercialized world.
Luke records the first incident of Christmas in Luke 2:8-11. The Shepherds were not expecting anything out of the ordinary; it was just another day in the ‘office’. But their lives were about to be changed forever. They were visited by an angel of the Lord, and he brought with him the glory of the Lord. They were terrified as they should be. Whenever the glory of the Lord appears to sinful people, the response has always been terror. When man stands in the shadow of God’s glory, his wretchedness becomes as clear as the daylight. That’s exactly what happened to the prophet Isaiah when he saw the Lord in Isaiah 6:1-5, his response was “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Like Isaiah, the shepherds were filled with great fear. They knew what happens when a sinful person comes into contact with a holy God. Christmas without the message is a terrifying experience. And what is the message?
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (vv.10-11).
This was the day the whole world had been waiting for. The day when the seed of the woman who was promised back in Genesis 3:15 was revealed. This was the day when “…God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
All of us were under the curse of the law due to our disobedience and rightly deserving of God’s just condemnation. But the angel’s message was one of hope “unto you is born this day…a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”
Though he was speaking to the Shepherds, the message “unto you” by extension is our message. Jesus came for each of them personally as he came for all the people. Christmas is a personal redemptive mission where the creator of the universe made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).
If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus Christ, know that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”. He came for you, and his message is, repent and believe for the salvation of your soul. If you’re already a follower of Jesus, do not be drowned in the commercialization and merchandize of the season. Jesus wants you to renew your affections for him and do what the shepherds did, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).
Have a Merry Christmas!