December 25, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The angel of the Lord who appears to shepherds in their field is unnamed in Bethlehem. We expect that it is Gabriel. He is the angel named in Daniel who appeared to Zechariah in the Temple to tell him about Elizabeth, who would become pregnant with John, and who also appeared to Mary in Nazareth to tell her about the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that would cause her to conceive the Messiah.
When he appeared to Zechariah and Mary, they were both afraid, and he told them both to not be afraid. He wasn’t there to judge them. He was there to announce the miracle of life in the wombs of Elizabeth and Mary and to announce the Grace of God that sends the Messiah to save them. Thus he says to Mary: “You shall call His Name Jesus for He will save His people.”
But it is more scary that night in Bethlehem. Not only is it night but the shepherds see more than the angel, they also see the “the glory of the Lord.” The glory of the Lord that settled on Mt. Sinai is described as a consuming fire. When Moses came down from the Mountain with the promise that God would be their God forever and the moral code by which they were to live, the Israelites were afraid. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
Again: it is worse in Bethlehem. The shepherds weren’t looking at the glory of the Lord from a distance. They were in the midst of it. It shone around them. Thus they were “sore afraid,” literally they were “fearing with great fear.” It is quite possible that in the history of frail and feeble men there is never been anyone with more reason to be scared than those shepherds, and never an event more terrifying.
But as he had come to Mary and Zechariah, the angel came that night to announce to those shepherds that the Lord had raised up a Prophet like Moses and laid Him in a manger. This Prophet would serve as an intermediary and advocate between God and Man. He would speak to God on our behalf and spare us from His wrath. He would make a new convenant in His Blood.
So the angel them them, like he’d told Mary and Zechariah “Stop being afraid.” And it works. They stop. He then says, “Look here! I am proclaiming the Gospel to you of great joy which will be for all people.”
We are used to hearing this translated as “I bring you good tidings of great joy.” the word translated here as “good tidings” is the English word “Gospel.” This a technical or a jargon word in the New Testament like Baptism and Church and Pastor. The Gospel is the good news of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation.
And what is the Gospel that he proclaims, then actual glad tidings or good news that he brings? It is this: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” So
what the angel is saying to the shepherds is: “Don’t be afraid. God has taken up flesh to redeem you, to win you, to reconcile you to Himself. He is not angry. He comes in peace.”
These sentences, “Don’t be afraid. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes it. Those who hear this word and believe it are saved. The shepherds are saved and so are Mary and Joseph and so are we if we also rejoice in this message.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” First off we confess that the Christ is born, that is, that He is a Man. He is one of us, with us, in our flesh, suffering our sorrows and pain, born like us and ultimately dying. It is important not only that He was born but that He was born unto us, for us, for even as He was born for us so He will die for us. He has no other purpose for which to be born. He does not need someone to love. He is not lonely or having regrets about what happened in the garden. He is born unto us means that He is given to us, in our place, as our Substitute and Advocate, that we might be spared and delivered out of darkness.
The angel then gives Jesus three explicit titles. He is called Savior, Christ, and Lord. The title Lord is the New Testament translation of the Hebrew Name given from the burning bush: “Yahweh,” which you may have heard in the King James Bible as “Jehovah.” The angel said the He was born. He is a true Man, at that point He is a Baby, helpless, lying in a manger. Yet the angel says that He who has been born unto us is Lord, Yahweh, the true God, the One who led the people out of Egypt on dry land, the creator and the sustainer of the universe, the One who is. Next to the Holy Trinity this is the greatest mystery. Next the angel says that He is the Christ, that is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” It means that He is anointed to be King, the suffering servant who will take the government upon His shoulders on the cross. How He can be true God and true Man at the same time, we do not know. The Bible says it and we confess it and believe it even though it defies our reason. But we cling to and can know, can understand, is that He who was born unto us and is the Lord is the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior. He is our Savior for He saves us from the punishment of our sins, He takes away our guilty, He pardons our iniquity. He is Joshua who leads us not only out of the wilderness but also into the promised land, across both the Red Sea and the Jordan. He is our Kinsman-Redeemer. He buys us out of bondage. He is the Lamb whose blood appeases God’s wrath in the angel of death. He is the Hero who confounds the enemy and shuts the monster’s mouth, crushing, once and for all, the devils skull, by laying down His life as a ransom and atonement.
The angel tells these shepherds this in the fields of Bethlehem, the very fields where David once tended sheep. This Child given unto us is the Son of David, who will establish and sit upoin the throne forever. He is the Good Shepherd who has defeated Goliath for us lays down His life for us and leads us beside still waters.
This is the essence of our faith, the beating heart of all our hope, that which makes us what and who we are. It is the Gospel for Mary, Zechariah, and the shepherds. It is the Gospel for those who afraid or have regrets or who have sinned. It is the power of God for salvation unto those who believe. “Do not be afraid. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.