The greatest sermon on Christmas night wasn’t preached in a temple, a synagogue, or a cathedral. Rather, it was delivered by an angel to some lowly shepherds in the Judean hills.
The late Dr. Billy Graham said, “It is significant that this message was delivered at night. It was night not only because the sun had gone down, but because the world was enshrouded in spiritual and moral gloom. It is often when things are darkest that God manifests himself.”
So just what kind of message was it?
First of all, it was a message of encouragement. The angel began with the words, “fear not!” (Luke 2:10) Before Christ came, the world was filled with fear! The Romans feared rebellion! The subjects feared Caesar! The Sadducees feared the Pharisees! The world was a sad place of fear and distrust and uncertainty – until Jesus came!
We had just moved when our son was three. One night he became lost in the dark of a new house. Crying, he ran down the hall and I caught him in my arms.
What has you afraid this Christmas season? With outstretched arms, Jesus is saying, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew11:28)
Secondly, it was a message of joy. In Luke 2:10, the angel mentioned “good tidings of great joy.” This heavenly being had been sent with good news! The angel revealed God’s Love for the world! The Son of God would be born to identify with us! God’s Power would always be greater than evil! Fear would be replaced by hope, hatred by love, greed by unselfishness, bondage by freedom, and guilt by pardon! But here’s the best news of all: Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from sin! (John 12:47) There’s definitely a reason to sing and rejoice at Christmastime!
In the third place, it was a message that’s universal. The angel said that this message was “to all people.” (Luke 2:10) Eugene Peterson translates, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide.”
This means it was a message that was not just for a select few. It was offered to everyone! (John 3:16) Regardless of race, color, or creed, we all need a Savior! Shepherds were the downcasts of town, yet they were the ones to whom the angel appeared.
Finally, it was a message that’s personal. The angel said, “born to you.” (Luke 2:11) As a matter of fact, that first Christmas took place because of you! Some have a difficult time with this. They feel unworthy.
Again, Billy Graham said, “The ‘you’ in the angel’s sermon means you. It is for you that he left the heavenly portals, came to earth and was born and laid in a manger. It is for you that he bore the cross and was crucified on Golgotha. It is for you that he was jeered by the mob. It is for you that his blood flowed from his hands and his feet. It is for you that he said, ‘Father, forgive them.’ It is for you that he cried in his last earthly breath, ‘It is finished.’ Yes, unto you is born … a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
It’s December of 2020. To put it mildly, it has been a trying year. The coronavirus has lingered longer that we expected. We’ve seen violence in our streets from coast to coast.
We watched as our nation divided politically in a presidential election. Some of us have laid to rest those we loved the most, often times in private services because the pandemic would only allow a limited attendance. If there is ever a time we need help, it is now. If there is ever a time we need hope, it is now.
I am so thankful that the message of Christmas is still one that’s encouraging, one that’s joyful, one that’s universal, and one that is extremely personal.
The message of an angel was not just to some smelly shepherds in the Judean hills a long time ago – it is a message that was intended for you and me today.
The Rev. Danny Goddard is senior pastor at New Castle First Church of the Nazarene. He is a regular contributor to the Faith Perspective column.