When I think about joy, especially during the season of advent, I am immediately drawn to the passage in the gospel of Luke when an angel of the Lord surprised a group of lowly shepherds in order to make a most amazing announcement about God’s Messiah.
When you read this passage you’ll notice that there are a variety of characters and themes that could easily grab your attention. You could focus on the shepherds who were working hard, minding their own business until they were scared witless by the appearance of an angel. You could fix your attention on the angel and how it tried to calm down the shepherds by telling them to not be afraid. To be honest, I’m not sure that hearing an angel speak after I’m already terrified is going to make things better, but hey, that’s just me. You could take time to dive into the actual message that the angel declared. Which is something that we’ll look at, but for me, for one reason or another, I’m drawn to that simple, three letter word, joy.
“Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.‘” – Luke 2:8-11 (NET)
As I am re-reading this passage again just now I’m noticing that the angel doesn’t do what we normally do when we have news to share with people. Often times we present an option to our hearers and say, “I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” I’m so glad that the shepherds didn’t have to deal with that kind of presentation. Could you imagine how that would have worked out? I’m not sure that I would want to hear bad news from an angel, but good news would probably be really great news…and that’s exactly what the angel was sharing that night.
The angel instructed the shepherds to listen carefully because what was about to be proclaimed was what they had been longing for for a very long time. And so the shepherds pulled themselves together so that they could pay attention to every word that the angel said. And before the angel actually gave them the news, they prefaced it with a description of the news itself. I can’t help but wonder if the description was simply a part of the message they were supposed to share, or if this was the angel’s own commentary on the news from their perspective.
Either way the description of the news is very fitting when you consider not only how long the people of God have been waiting for the promised Messiah, but also what it meant for them. We’ll get to that in a moment.
So the angel sets it up by telling us that this is not only good news…but it’s the kind of good news that will bring great joy to all people. It’s like it’s the best new ever!
And then the angel proclaims, ‘Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.‘
I can just picture it. My mind’s eye has this scene playing out where the angel is so stinking excited to share the news that he can hardly contain himself. And then, once he’s able to get it out, he’s almost blown away by what he said as much as the shepherds were, and he already knew what he was gonna say. Then I see the angel pause as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you this was going to be the best news ever!?!”
This is certainly good news of great joy! But I can see how some would read this as any old birth announcement. Some are probably wondering what’s all the fuss about. And these are legitimate responses for those who aren’t aware of the whole story of Israel and the promises that God had made to them so long ago.
So perhaps we should pause and ask some questions ourselves.
- What did it really mean to the shepherds and the people of Israel? What did it mean to them that their savior, the Christ, the anointed one, had been born?
- And what about what the angel said that this would be good news of great joy for all people? Did they really mean all people, or was that just another way of saying the people of God, Israel?
- Was there any significance that it was actually taking place at that exact time in history?
- Is the City of David important to the story?
These kinds of questions take some time to consider, and so we’ll plan to tackle these over the next few days together.
Until then, be encouraged that there is good news that is meant to stir up a great amount of joy in us. Let that joy resurface as you continue to journey through these days of advent.