In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!” Luke 2:8-14
For the next couple weeks I’m going to post some thoughts pressed on my heart about the Christmas season. As you may know, we just began the Advent calendar/season this past week. The meaning and deep intention behind Advent is one that all of us should spend some time praying and thinking about. Next week I will post on the reason Advent is important and why we need to consider observing it.
Russell Moore stated in a sermon that Christmas is really about when God wages war against sin. While we often make Christmas about poinsettias, hot cocoa, and holly wreaths, God initiated the event from a desire to defeat sin and its reign over His people.
Sure, when the angels appeared in Bethlehem to the shepherds, it must have seemed like a peaceful, miraculous event. However, God did not send His son Jesus to earth to help us feel warm and fuzzy inside with a neatly decorated Christmas tree, and a house that smells like peppermint. God sent him to wage war against the sin, lies and deception of the world, the bondage that holds so many of us in chains to addiction and idolatry, our oppression from Satan, and ultimately provide victory through His death and resurrection. That sweet baby boy who laid in the manger so many years ago in Bethlehem wasn’t just a metaphor and a cute picture of the peace to come. He is the substance of our freedom from the terminal consequences of our sin.
In Luke chapter 2, the angels announce that born to them was “a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord.” Those two simple descriptions of Jesus carried incredible weight, especially in the day of Joseph and Mary. Why would the Jews need a Savior? They needed a Savior because for the last 400 years, God had not spoken to them through the prophets. They needed a Savior because their culture and their heritage was slowly fading away under Roman rule and the Hellenistic trends of the day. The once massive kingdom united under David and controlled the entire area around it had been conquered, the temple burned, and they were living in virtual serfdom to a Roman empire that did not respect the same beliefs and practices they held so dear. The Roman empire that ruled them was not a Godly empire, and they desired a King and a Savior who would bring them back to power, save them from oppression, and restore Israel to its proper place. They needed a Savior because they desired redemption and reconciliation to their original and proper (in their mind) place of power. The shepherds heard Savior and they anticipated a conquering king.
“Messiah” referred to the awaited redeemer, the descendant of David spoken of by the prophets, the person the Jews had put so much hope and faith in to redeem what they believed to be slavery to Rome. Messiah, synonymous with Christ, is not an adjective but a title, affirming one as anointed by God. To call someone the Messiah is not to describe an aspect of them, but to affirm them as anointed. In a much smaller sense, it would be like using the term president to describe Barack Obama, not the man, but his position.
The Messiah the Jews were waiting for was not one they expected to come in the form of a baby, nor one they expected to die on a Cross for them. They expected a conquering king, sword in hand, ready to wage war against the Romans, and ultimately restore them back to a place of freedom and power. When Jesus didn’t meet those specific expectations they crucified Him. They missed the point wildly. Jesus was a conquering King. God did send his Son to wage war on behalf of His people. Jesus did come ultimately to shed blood. What they missed was Jesus came for a much bigger problem than Roman occupation. Jesus came for the sins of the world. Not the slavery of the Jews only. Not the conviction of the Gentiles only. He came that He might shed his blood in sacrifice to ultimately defeat Satan through His resurrection from the grave. This is the war God waged against the evil one, and the war He won when Jesus rose from the dead. This is the good news the Angels proclaimed had come in Jesus. The two words “good news” used in Luke 2:10 is from the same Greek word from which “Gospel” is derived. They came to share the Gospel to the shepherds.
Please don’t hear that I am hating on Christmas or family traditions, or that fuzzy feeling we get surrounding the season. I love the season more than any other holiday season. There is a real joy that seems to under-ride much of what happens over the next month. That joy is rooted in Jesus, despite what marketing and culture wants to say. However I think it is important that we don’t lose sight that this season and this holiday was not intended solely as a peaceful, nostalgic, warm, fuzzy season. It was the initiation of a physical war that God waged and won against Satan.