(Please read Luke 2:8-20, NLT.)
Thesis – Advent is a time of joyous discovery for each of us as we celebrate the ancient discovery of Jesus’ birth.
One of the contrasts in this passage is between the messengers and the recipients. Angels are a different race of beings entirely. They are God’s messengers and heavenly worshipers, but they also exist to assist us. They are mysterious and exalted beings and the Bible testifies that they often work among and pass for regular human beings.
Shepherds, on the other hand, were the most ordinary folk you’d hope to find in that ancient culture. Their vocation was mostly viewed positively in the Bible, but in Jesus’ time they were belittled as unclean, untrustworthy folk.
The angels announced the ultimate reason for joy (8-14).
In vs. 10-11, 14 we find the angelic message. It details what’s happening, when, where, how, and why. We’ll examine all ten parts of their message.
- “DON’T BE AFRAID.” When angels appear in their glorious, heavenly, form, they are intimidating visually and physically. We know this because people are always afraid when they appear. We know this because the text says so, THEY WERE TERRIBLY FRIGHTENED; and because the angel always says, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”
- “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS…” This phrase had cultural significance; the birth of Augustus Caesar was announced as “good news” of the birth of a “savior.” This is a case of Luke using the empire’s own language against them.
- “…OF GREAT JOY…” This is our key to the passage. The birth of Jesus brought great joy then and it should now as well.
- “…FOR EVERYONE!” The salvation God offers thru Jesus is universal in its scope but conditional in its effects: you have to receive it by faith. Otherwise, it is not effective; God chooses not save or condemn anyone against their own will.
- “THE SAVIOR” It is abundantly plain in the birth narratives that the purpose of Jesus’ birth is to be the Savior of all humankind. It is firmly rooted in OT prophecies (see Deuteronomy 20:4; Joshua 22:22; Psalms 24:4; 25:5; Isaiah 25:9). It was actually a widely-used term term at that time; physicians, rulers & philosophers were called “saviors.” Curiously, it is the only time Luke uses SAVIOR to refer to Jesus.
- “THE MESSIAH” The Greek version of this word is “Christ,” and the word means “The Anointed One.” It is rarely used in the Old Testament, but the Messiah was nonetheless widely expected by Jews of that time.
- “THE LORD” This is a title of respect akin to “sir.” It was commonly used to pay respects to men in positions of authority.
- “HAS BEEN BORN TONIGHT…IN THE CITY OF DAVID” = These two, taken together, highlight the immediacy of the blessed event. The shepherds had the honor of being the first eyewitnesses on the scene.
- “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN” As is the case with all of life, our ultimate purpose is to direct people’s attention to God; that’s what it means to “glorify” Him. God is the greatest good and the biggest favor we can do to one another is to draw attention to Him.
- “PEACE ON EARTH TO ALL WHOM GOD FAVORS.” (See Luke 10:21.) This phrase affirms what we noted earlier; God’s salvation provides the possibility of everyone being saved, but some will reject it. God’s favor rests on those who accept His gracious offer by faith. Because they are saved, they will have PEACE, even ON EARTH. Including the shepherds demonstrates that God’s favor rested on them. They represent the common person. Having wealth or fame or power does not indicate God’s favor – those men had none of those things.
The sign that verified the truthfulness of the message is found in verse twelve. This is an excellent sign – it is so unusual as to be unmistakable: “A BABY IN A MANGER, WRAPPED SNUGLY IN STRIPS OF CLOTH.” A baby occupying a manger might’ve been taken as a cast-off, abandoned and exposed, left to die. (Like a baby left alone on a park bench.)
However, wrapping a baby in strips of cloth is a sign of caring. This practice was done to keep the baby’s limbs straight and to keep it warm; to help it survive. According to Scripture, all prophecy is proven to have come from God when it comes true. The angels have made some BIG PROMISES here and having a sign to back them up is a very good thing!
The shepherds and Mary discovered it for themselves (15-20).
You can tell the shepherds were excited about the news (see 15-17, 20).
- As soon as the messengers had disappeared, they were on their way to Bethlehem.
- Listen to the way they described the good news; “THIS WONDERFUL THING.”
- Look at the happy haste they showed: THEY RAN TO THE VILLAGE.
- Hear the joy in their voices as they TOLD EVERYONE WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND WHAT THE ANGEL HAD TOLD THEM ABOUT THIS CHILD.
- Watch them go back to work, GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD…BECAUSE THEY HAD SEEN THE CHILD, JUST AS THE ANGEL HAD SAID. We can be this way, can’t we? We believe in God and yet are still surprised when He answers our prayers with a “yes” or does things we didn’t expect Him to do. The shepherds were pleased to have been included in this divine event and they wouldn’t stop talking about it. It would be great if we followed their example in THIS way!
Jesus’ mother Mary quietly joined the shepherds in their excitement (v. 19).
- MARY QUIETLY TREASURED THESE THINGS IN HER HEART. Celebrations do not have to be loud and raucous to be true. Worship occurs just as readily in quiet and reflective moments as it does in more demonstrative ways. The faithful response of all disciples is to perceive the will of God and then act upon it.
- AND THOUGHT ABOUT THEM OFTEN. This word refers to deep reflection on a topic; it literally meant “get it all together.” It also translated as waging war (see Luke 14:31) and carrying on a conversation (see Acts 17:18). So Mary really wrestled with these things, trying to figure out what it all meant. This too is a good example for us to follow; to dwell on the word of God, to meditate on it and apply it to daily living.
Though the birth of Jesus was a private event – just Mary and Joseph – it did not stay that way long. Soon afterward, a group of shepherds showed up, having received instructions and directions from a whole army of angels. Whether we receive the news exuberantly, as the shepherds did, or quietly, as Mary did, the point is that we receive this news. Advent is a time of joyous discovery for each of us as we celebrate the ancient discovery of Jesus’ birth.