A Series of Gifts: Good News!

The following message is based on Luke 2:8-21, when the angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Jesus.  It was delievered on December 9, 2012

An announcement is news made public.  Announcements are as useful to today as they were 2,000 years ago.  They come in varied mediums, whether they come across the ticker at the bottom of the television screen, over an intercom, or on the front page of the newspaper.  An announcement is meant to inform or prepare us. Some announcements are good; others are disappointing, still others are devastating.  In Brenda Warner’s book, One Call Away, the author writes of different times in her life when a phone call brought her to the brink.  For instance, a healthy baby tragically injured in the bathtub; a sudden end to a career she loved; betrayal and divorce; poverty; public humiliation; a deadly natural disaster that destroyed her foundation and shook her to her core. In response, she chose to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ and realized that He had a plan through it all.  Announcements can be life-changing.

Luke 2:10 contains most likely the greatest announcement of all time. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  The scene takes place on the day of or shortly after Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  Some shepherds were in the field outside of the city, watching their flocks.  It is interesting that God chose shepherds to announce the birth of his Son. Shepherds were among the working class of the first century.  They were dirty and smelled of their jobs.  They were not necessarily a prestigious class.  Hard work and poverty can be depressing.  These were people that could’ve probably used some good news.

This announcement comes to them and at first, they are filled with fear.  Another translation states that they were “terrified.”  This was due to the awesome presence of the angelic majesty.  But the angel tells them “do not be afraid.”  For they are about to be given good news of great joy that shall be for all the people.  Shepherds were a good example of that inclusiveness that makes Christmas and Easter and Christianity so special.  The gospel is for every man, woman, boy and girl, regardless of background, skin color, vocation or caste.

The reason that they would not give way to fear is that this announcement was a source of good news that produced great joy.  Our world is desperate for good news.  If we pick up our local newspapers or turn on the radio, or watch the television, we find despair abounds.  Natural disasters, disease, and violence are common.  Love seems to be a premium in our world today. But the angels said this would be good news for all people.  Jesus would come as the world’s only Savior.

In the first century, there was a sense of anticipation for Jews surrounding the coming of the Messiah.  He was seen as a rescuer, a political figure that would come and crush God’s enemies, particularly the Romans.  But Jesus is a different type of Savior.  He saves from the guilt and power of sin.  Remember what the angel said to Joseph as we studied last week from Matthew 1:20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

In order to appreciate the good news, you must first understand the bad news.  Each one of us has disobeyed God from birth.  Since the fall of humankind, not one of us was taught how to lie, how to be selfish, or how to steal.  We do that naturally.  R.C. Sproul says: “We are not sinful because we sin; we sin because we are sinful.”  Since the God of the universe is perfect in character, all sin greatly offends Him.  But God, looking upon our plight, sent us one who would deliver us from such a dilemma.  This is why Jesus is called the Savior.

This message is becoming more dear to those who believe it and more repulsive to those who hate it.  Consider the words of the late new atheist Christopher Hitchens: “. . . I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

Do you need good news today?  Consider this!  God did something for you many years ago that you could never do for yourself.  He sent His one and only Son Jesus to this earth to save you from sin’s guilt and power.  When you could never erase the guilt of your disobedience, Christ did it for you when He died on the cross.  For those who would turn from their sin and put their trust in Him, Jesus not only forgives us, but grants us eternal life, regardless of your race, your gender or your assets.  Maybe you have no church affiliation, or at least you have not taken God or church very seriously. You may have even said: “That’s not for me; only for religious people.”Could it be because you’ve not looked at Christmas as good news?

Consider where Jesus was born.  Bethlehem is a humble place, a bedroom community of Jerusalem.  We are told of its modesty in Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Today, Bethlehem is small and relatively dirty.  There’s not much is taking place there.  But God often uses the small and insignificant to prove His incredible power.

The fact that Jesus was born in a manger would be a sign for the shepherds.  Why this sign?  Because not many babies are born in a manger.  A manger was a feed trough.  It was not a place to lay a child.  But because the accommodations were not afforded Joseph and Mary, they were born where cattle are kept.  This sign would be another indication of the humility of Christ coming to our world and identifying with us.

Consider Christmas in other parts of the world.  Hear this from Alta Mene, a young man from Albania.  He stated: “While there were many Communist countries surrounding us during the time of the Cold War, were unique.  We were the only one to declare publicly our country to be atheist.  We did so in 1971 under our leader Enver Hoxha.  He told us that Islam had been the religion of the Turkish occupier.  Orthodoxy was the religion of the Greeks, and Catholicism was the religion of the Italian invaders and Austrian imperialism.  It was better just to be Albanian, which he meant to be without any religion.

He did many other things in our country.  Besides declaring our nation to be atheist, he closed our borders.  As a result of his policies, my country became very isolated from other nations.  Nobody could enter or leave.

My father saw the effects of Enver Hoxha’s reign on the Christian community.  He witnessed many attacks on the church.  For example, as a ten year old, he witnessed the destruction of a Catholic Church in the city of Lac.  The local Communist party leader led a group of 200-300 people armed with sledgehammers to demolish the large Church there.  The leader whipped people into a frenzy, invoking nationalistic feelings leading to the destruction of the building.  My father heard stories from this time that some in the crowd were scared.  Others felt that the icons within the church were even shedding tears.  It was a sad memory for him.

My father served as a captain in the Albanian army.  His responsibility was to protect the borders of Albania.  His specific job was to listen for broadcasts indicating an American invasion.

While on duty listening to radio communications, my father came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Instead of paying attention to possible American messages about an invasion of Albania, he decided to listen to a radio broadcast from Trans World Radio.  This organization transmits the Christian message by radio into countries where it might otherwise not be heard.  The broadcast to which he was listening came from Monaco, a small country near Italy.

His decision to listen to this broadcast instead of doing his military duty could have put our family in great danger.  If my father had been caught listening to the TWR message, he could have been thrown into prison or he could have lost his life.  He was not caught, however, and after listening to several broadcasts, he eventually put his faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  This changed our entire family’s life and also the Christian community.

During the reign of Enver Hoxha, we could not celebrate Christmas publicly.  The government wanted all celebrations to be on the New Year.  For example, we did not have Christmas trees.  Instead, they were called New Year’s trees.

People were encouraged to gather with their families at New Year and have a family meal.  The government even doubled the meat ration for that week.  Christians, however, still celebrated Christmas.  We did so secretly with a family meal.

Now that Communist times are over, Christmas is a time of great celebration in the church in Albania.  On December 24, our entire church gathers for feasting, music, and dancing.  The following morning we have a worship service.  In the afternoon on Christmas Day, there is a time to spend with family.

God called the shepherds years ago.  They brought their sheep and lambs to Jesus and it reminds me of how the small and humble person can come and know Jesus.  When God acts and calls His people they will come, no matter what man may say.  For years our country refused God, but His call is stronger still!” [1]

[1] Drake Williams, Joy of the World, 45-48.

Published by davidmckinley

I am the Senior Pastor of Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA. The Schwenkfelder Church is a community of faith birthed from those persecuted in Silesia (Poland) during the 16-18th centuries, whose adherents traveled to Pennsylvania circa 1734. For more on the Schwenkfelders as a historical movement, see www.schwenkfelder.com. Central Schwenkfelder is a Christ-centered, Bible-believing congregation. For more info, see www.cscfamily.org. My ordained standing is with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. See www.ccccusa.org or www.easternpa4c.org.

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