8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” — Luke 2:8–15 (ESV)
When was the last time you read good news in a headline and didn’t feel the need to receive it with extreme suspicion?
In an age of contested news outlets, misinformation, political meddling, and dubious fact-checkers, it can be difficult to know what news is trustworthy and so we look to gatekeepers for their stamp of approval… But depending on the gatekeeper, that stamp of approval might actually be more a reason to doubt than to trust.
As we see in our passage today, God is not dependent upon informational gatekeepers for their stamp of approval. God is able to make his message known to whomever he wants, whenever he wants.
And, to whom does he announce the most important news our world has ever heard?
Shepherds. Gruff, blue-collar, night-shift shepherds.
Not the kingly courts so they can bless his message? Not to elite philosophers in Athens? Nope. God doesn’t need their endorsement and laughs at those who think he needs their approval.
When he shares news, his glory is his own confirmation. So, his glory shone around the shepherds. What was this glory like? Apparently, it was so palpable that it caused them to be “filled with great fear”.
So also the gospel comes to sinners — through the power of God making himself known.
What happens when sinners encounter the holiness of God? They tremble. They tremble because of their sin and because his justice and his power are the greatest threats to them and their greatest dread. But God in his glorious grace does not leave the shepherds trembling, and his message is good news for sinners.
What were the first words out of the mouth of the angel of the Lord?
Not, “Beware!”… Not, “Watch out!”… Not, “Heads up!”…
It was, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great Joy!”
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The Savior has been born. God replaces their trembling fears with the joy of good news. So also he does with us when he makes himself known to us in the Gospel.
Jesus is the only one who can calm the trembling sinner encountering the holiness and glory of God, because he is the only one who can truly make peace between a holy God and us.
This baby born unto us is the God-man. The mediator. The peace for trembling sinners. The joy of the nations. He is his own fact check. He is his own stamp of approval. And he came to bring us joy.
Glory to God in the highest,
Our Savior, who is Christ the Lord!
Alpha and Omega, your infinite power
and matchless might astound us.
The greatest story ever told starts and ends with you.
Father, you need not the world’s approval,
for you are truth itself.
We have wronged You; this week we have worshipped at the feet of unworthy gods. We’ve sampled from plates not meant for us. We’ve overlooked your majesty and settled for the off-brand, the knock-off version of your goodness.
The news headlines that needle us and push our buttons.
The dumpster fire of our world:
These conditions do not surprise or scare you.
You knew that 2021 would bring out our worst,
and you chose us anyway.
The enemy did his best to thwart Christmas.
And yet, you stepped into our world to deliver us hope.
Oh holy and radiant Redeemer,
remind us to look to the cross when we grow weary
(and we will).
Show us how our pithy wishful thinking pales in comparison to the real hope your sacrifice makes possible. A hope and a peace that we don’t have to chase, because you, our true peace, are always with us.
Authorities trying to dampen our worship:
We know this story well.
We need no man’s permission
to celebrate the Christ-child’s birth.
For you, our true King, require it.
We also know how this story ends:
with joyful celebration.
Sustain us, oh God our Maker.
Quench our longing.
Intoxicate us with your comfort.
Hold your people in the palm of your hand,
until you come again.