Luke 2 is full of wonder, telling the story of Jesus’ birth, God himself being born as a baby in a simple manger. This was news worth telling as the angel demonstrated by announcing it to shepherds, people who knew intimately what it meant for the promised Shepherd of Israel to finally come. (Ezekiel 34:11-16.) Yet it wasn’t all good news.
In fact, the angels might as well have started off the announcement by asking, “Which would you like first, the good news or the bad news?”
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12.)
This is no doubt good news. The promised Messiah has finally come, and the angel is even telling them where to find him. He even emphasizes that this “will cause great joy for all the people.”
But it’s not a simple matter of joy for everyone. When the sky gets crowded as more angels enter earth from heaven, things get complicated:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14.)
God’s peace, then, is not on everyone who hears the good news but only on those “on whom his favor rests.” What is that favor? Jesus said it is found in the choice God made in drawing people into his family. (John 6:44. See Ephesians 1:3-14 as well.)
The shepherds might have known this already, if they’d been paying attention to their prophets. Isaiah has plenty of those good news/bad news passages in it.
And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:14-15.)
This is certainly good news, isn’t it? God who is high and holy chooses to be with us, to revive us. He brings us life by being right here alongside us where we are. That was the point of coming to us in the flesh, of being born in that humble stable in Bethlehem.
Yet Isaiah, like the angels, had more to say, and it wasn’t all good news:
“Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Much like the angels’ message, the second part of Isaiah’s pronouncement repeats the good news but then declares doom on those who are not in God’s kingdom..
How Do You Hear The Message?
Is the message of God’s salvation – whether in Isaiah or Luke – a message of hope and peace for you or a message of judgment and doom?
The hope of Jesus and the peace of God is offered to you now at Christmas as much as at any other time:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11.)
The gift of God, the Savior born in Bethlehem, the one whose birth was announced by angels, whose coming fulfilled the words of Isaiah, that gift is open to all who receive it.
[This is the first of a two-part series on the life and death meaning of Christmas. Tomorrow I’ll focus on how God blesses his creation through it all.]