For some, the Christmas season is just a time to celebrate the end of another year. It may be simply a time to forget all that has happened in daily life as well as what is happening in our struggling world.
That may be especially true this year.
Sadly some miss the joy of the Savior completely. We know also that this season can be a depressing time for many: especially those who have suffered loss, and those whose lives are filled with personal hardship and painful memories. The joyful message of Christmas may be very distant, even though it is still really needed.
The challenge for many of us is to allow the true joy of Christmas to be experienced afresh and at a deep level.
Yes, this can be a challenge for genuine Christians. With the difficult circumstances that many are facing right now, joy may seem a long way off. Also, the clutter of commercialism can add seasonal pressure and can cover-up the real source of joy.
This true joy is what is declared in the angel’s announcement in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:10-12).
“’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of a great joy that will be for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (The Angel, Luke 2:10-11 NKJV. Reading: Luke 2:1-20)
Joy! Indeed, great joy is what is declared! I am referring to it as “Mega-Joy,” and it is at the heart of the message concerning a Savior who came to deal with the most important issue in life, a right relationship with God.
I want us to look afresh at this amazing account to gain a fresh perspective on this “Message of Mega-Joy.”
Why? Because joy is one of the intended results of God’s salvation and our relationship with Him. Because we need joy to fill our lives, and we need to express that joy in worship and witness.
The joy of the Lord needs to be our strength as we face the challenges of daily life. Joy is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit given to those who are saved by the very grace of God.
So, let’s go back to Luke’s account.
After writing about the actual birth of Mary’s firstborn child (Luke 2:1-7), Luke presents the message of “an angel” to a group of shepherds and their response (Luke 2:8-20). This message, delivered in such a supernatural and spectacular way, reveals the significance of the baby’s birth in Bethlehem. The content of the message is described as one of “great joy.” The angelic announcement could almost be translated, “I gospel great joy to you” (Luke 2:10). This great joy, “mega-joy,” was and is due to the announcement of the birth of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
This message of “Great Joy” surely was surprising to the Shepherds.
The KJV reads that they were “sore afraid” (2:9). That means that they were “mega afraid.” It makes sense that the opening statement by the angel was “do not be afraid.” Imagine the kind of fear that must have gripped these shepherds with such a supernatural display. Before the declaration and clarification that took place by way of the angelic gospel message, I’m sure all sorts of fearful thoughts could have dominated the shepherds’ minds.
But, the “mega-fear” was matched by a message of “mega-joy.” And the message was the good news of a special birth in the city of David of a unique person.
The whole gospel (in a sense) is provided in the phrase of identification: Savior, Christ, the Lord. Savior speaks of His mission to save people lost in sin and in need of deliverance. Christ speaks of His role as the Anointed Messiah and King and the One sent in fulfillment of prophecy and God’s promises to His People. The Lord speaks of His deity and sovereignty deserving our worship and allegiance. What a message: “a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”
The message ultimately is a person, our Lord Himself!
He brings joy. And may the joy of this gospel of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” be experienced afresh in our lives this Christmas season.
What I have noticed about this section of Scripture (Luke 2:8-20) is that it focuses on the angel’s announcement, this message of mega-joy. Not only was God active in the actual birth of the “Son of the Most High,” God was active in revealing the significance of this birth to potential witnesses.
The angel was a preacher of the gospel of Christ. Please note this - this message had to be “preached” in order for the activity of God to be “made known” (Luke 2:15) and for great joy to be experienced. In other words, this gospel message had to be communicated to these shepherds in order for them to know what God was doing.
A baby could have been born in Bethlehem with no witnesses, and with no understanding outside of Joseph and Mary themselves. But, God chose to “make known” what He was doing authoritatively, supernaturally, to confirm His Savior and His plan of salvation.
So, I want to put ourselves in the “sandals” of the shepherds. I want us to learn from their response to the angelic gospel because we should respond in a similar fashion.
Notice that this message of Mega-Joy was:
1. RECEIVED MEANINGFULLY – THAT SHOULD BE TRUE OF US (Luke 2:15)
“….the shepherds said to one another ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’”
The Shepherds recognized that this message was from the “Lord.” It was the Lord who had “made known” the events in Bethlehem, indeed the city of David. I suppose they could have just been afraid. They could have had this incredible experience and stayed where they were. They could have rejected the message or questioned its source, but that was not the case. Instead they decided to act immediately on the basis of the message. They accepted the message as being from the Lord. Ultimately, everyone’s approach to Christmas will be framed by how they receive this message. Indeed, people’s experience of the joy of salvation will be determined by whether or not they receive this message.
The theme of the joy of salvation is clearly one of Luke’s emphases in his gospel and in the Book of Acts. Just look up the words “joy” and “rejoice” in Luke’s writings. Two examples will paint the picture. You may remember Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:10. When the Lord told Zacchaeus that He “must stay at [his] house,” Zacchaeus received him “joyfully” (Luke 19:6), and Jesus Himself declared that salvation had come to “this house” (19:9). In Acts 8:39, the account reads that the believing Ethiopian Eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.” This is a clear indication of his genuine faith and appropriate baptism. Many other examples could be given, but joy is one of the signs and the fruit of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. “The joy of salvation” is what we declare at Christmas time. Joy is what the angel was announcing to the shepherds. It was and is the joy of God’s plan of salvation breaking into time in the person of His Son, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Have you really believed this message?
Have you really received this message meaningfully?
Receiving this message meaningfully means that we acknowledge that this message is a true message from the Lord Himself. A meaningful reception means that we realize that this message is about “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The Lord is the ultimate source of the message and He is the subject of the message. And when considered against the backdrop of Scripture, we understand that we need a Savior who brings salvation to those who receive Him.
The shepherds may not have fully grasped all of the implications of the angelic announcement and the subsequent praise, but they received the message and acted upon it. For us today it is as we turn from sin and self and acknowledge our need of a Savior and trust in Him alone for salvation that we enter into the salvation that he achieved by His coming, dying, rising, and ascending. But, let’s get back to Luke 2!
This message of Mega-Joy also was:
2. CONFIRMED PERSONALLY – THAT SHOULD BE TRUE OF US (Luke 2:16)
The shepherds agreed to act upon this message. They went quickly and “found” and “saw” what was told them. They “went,” they “found,” they “saw.” They not only witnessed the baby, the Savior, but they also became witnesses to the truthfulness of the message they had received from the angel (Luke 2:16-17).
Isn’t it interesting how the text reads! I believe that the “saying” referred to in verse 17 points back to the Angel’s gospel. Yes, they saw the child, but what was confirmed was the gospel message that they heard. “…They made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.”
This points to their need to have God’s revelation to explain His actions, His words to explain His works. That’s what the angelic announcement gave to them. They had God’s Word communicated by an angel. This is why God has given us His Word, the Scriptures. How would we understand what God has done and is doing in our world if He was not a God Who Reveals! We would all be guessing and postulating our own understanding of things.
Imagine how many ways you could interpret Joseph and Mary having a baby in a manger in a place used to feed animals. How would anyone know that arguably the most important event in the history of the world was taking place at that very moment??!! What may have looked very simple and somewhat tragic – was the greatest most joyful event imaginable. But, by receiving the message and acting upon it, the shepherds confirmed the message they had received.
This is true in our own lives as well.
It is not only true of the Christmas message but other truths that God has revealed to us. As we act on God’s revelation, God’s truth is confirmed to us. We must act in faith and obedience to what the Lord has said to us. That is what the Shepherds did and the message was confirmed. We need to confirm the message personally ourselves.
The fact that the angelic message was confirmed personally by the shepherds leads to the next truth we glean from this account.
We read that this message of Mega-Joy was:
3. PROCLAIMED IMPACTFULLY – THAT SHOULD BE TRUE OF US (Luke 2:17-19)
The Shepherds “made known” to others not just what they found and saw, but “the saying that had been told them concerning this Child” (Luke 2:17).
The message of the angel was now being spread abroad to others through the shepherds. It is interesting that the response of all who heard was “wonder,” not necessarily belief. But, would we not also “wonder” if we had heard such a message??!!
These shepherds became the first human preachers of the gospel message. Isn’t that amazing!! The Lord didn’t pick polished speakers, religious leaders, government officials, or financially influential people. Simple shepherds were given the privilege of a special revelation of the best news ever heard. God works in mysterious ways, does He not?! Yes, He does, and He does work in ways far beyond our thinking and for His own glory!
It would be later that the message of repentance, baptism, and the coming of the King would be entrusted to a single man in the desert, John the Baptist. Again, the Lord bypassed all the people of influence and authority at that time. God is careful and strategic when He reveals His glory and grace. He also fulfills His promises.
As we look at the passage before us, how precious is the insight given into Mary’s thinking in verse 19. Mary treasured and pondered “all these things,” and she may be one of Luke’s sources in giving this very account. At that time, Mary did not express her thoughts outwardly, she pondered “all these things.”
I would assume that “all these things” probably included the message that the shepherds heard from the angel. Mary knew who her baby was, but I am guessing that she may not have known that shepherds were to receive a message from an angel and that they were to experience an angelic celebration. The witness of the shepherds was to impact her as well.
I would encourage us all to take time to “ponder” during these days. It is so easy for preparations, activities, events, and all the trimmings of Christmas to take over. I also think it is helpful to include “wonder” in our faith. God is the God of the supernatural.
Also, in one way or another, we ought to be proclaimers. This is a message that will impact people. All we need to do is share it with others. Both personal worship and outward witness are appropriate responses to the message of Mega-Joy. In our lives, hopefully, personal worship will lead to outward witness.
Lastly, this message of Mega-Joy was:
4. CELEBRATED JOYFULLY – THAT SHOULD BE TRUE OF US (Luke 2:20)
The Shepherds not only told others, they eventually returned to their place of work and service “glorifying and praising God.” They had confirmed the message “as it had been told to them” and this confirmation of the message had touched their own lives.
They directed glory and praise to God, which was and is the right response to the message of Mega-Joy. We don’t hear anything more of these shepherds, but the last word concerning them indicates that they personally embraced the gospel of great joy and directed their joyful response to God Himself in worshipful celebration.
Let’s praise and glorify God not only for giving His Son to us and for us, but for revealing Him to us through His Word.
During this season of the year, let’s receive this Word meaningfully afresh, confirm it personally anew, proclaim it publically as the Lord leads, and celebrate it joyfully for His glory. This is our appropriate response to such a joyful gospel message.
The Apostle Paul gave us a way to summarize this message in 1 Timothy 1:15:
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
How about you and me at this Christmas?
Let’s be grateful for sins forgiven because a Savior came to die for our sins.
Let’s rejoice in the gift of a right relationship with God.
Let’s praise God for the assurance of the blessings of the Savior including eternal life.
Let us rejoice that our Lord and Christ is now exalted above having completed His redemptive ministry on earth and that He intercedes for us.
Let us also rejoice in the presence of His Spirit and in our hope of His return and His reign forevermore. There is a lot of rejoicing to do this Christmas.
Can you thank Him right now??
If you are going through hard times, the Lord knows all about it. Seek His help. Seek the help of your Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord. Seek the Holy Spirit’s work within your life to know a joy that is deeper than sorrow and is steadfast in grieve.
Joy is the fruit of the Spirit’s presence and work as He makes real to us the truth of the gospel. He can affirm and confirm the truth of the gospel in your heart and bring encouragement through the true joy of Christmas.
If you have never believed on Him and His salvation, now is the available time to accept the message of Jesus and the joy of salvation by turning from sin and self, truly repenting, and personally accepting Jesus as the Savior, Christ the Lord.
Let’s have Joy-full Christmas!