Like most children I know, I enjoyed Christmas. I enjoyed getting Christmas gifts. The best Christmas gift I ever received as a child was a chemistry set… which some may find strange. My worst presents were socks. I got those every year. In recent years I have come to realize the value of a comfortable pair of socks… but not back then. I loved having relatives come over and we would have a special meal together. We didn’t have ham, spaghetti, and fruit salad.Although I am from the United States, my ancestors are from Sweden… so we would have Swedish food— potatis korv, rotmos, sylta, ingladt sill, limpa, bondost, pepperkokkar, and more.
But my favorite thing to do at Christmas was caroling. Where I am from, it was done differently than it is done here in the Philippines. The youth from our church would go around in cars. We weren’t being lazy. We really had to because we lived in the boondocks so everyone lived far far apart. And it was very cold. Often we would go out at night with the temperature hovering around minus 10 degrees Celsius. We would go to shut-ins mostly. These were old people or sick people in our community… and we would sing some of the classic Christmas carols. Afterwards, we would return to the church for hot cocoa and cookies. After these many years it is still a great memory.
Singing at Christmas links us to the Christmas story. We know the story of the angels singing. The actual Greek word used is better translated “saying” or speaking. But I am not sure that any of us could picture this scene in any other way than with the music of heaven..
Reading Luke chapter 2 starting in verse 8:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. <Time of year may have been more like April or May. It is a memorial– the day doesn’t matter so much. Of course each year, people put little articles on FB stating that Christmas is evil because it is being held on a day that 2000 years ago, was a pagan holiday. Foolishness. God can redeem the vilest sinner. Any person. God can redeem any family. Any people. Any place. Redeeming a day is easy for God. Any of the 365.25 days a year.>
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. <Yeah, I would be terrified as well. And so would you.>
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all 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. <We should never forget how bizarre this message is. Savior and Messiah and Lord, found in a food trough for animals.>
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, <Or maybe singing.>
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’
The shepherds did not have a necessary role in the birth of Christ. They were essentially spectators… and proclaimers. Why were they blessed to witness this event? And what was the message for them?
Essentially it was about the Goodness of God.
- -Message was described as good news.
- -Message was to cause Great joy for ALL people
- -Message was that God has sent a Savior, a Messiah (Anointed one, redeemer), the Lord.
- -It declares that God desires Peace on earth
- -It states that God finds favor with, or pleasure in mankind.
God’s goodness. And the shepherds needed to hear that… and we need to hear that as well — because it is easy for us to miss that.
We often say, ‘God is Good all the time, and all the time, God is good.’ And I believe that. But it is not a statement to throw around flippantly.
The goodness of God is not always evident. Sometimes we do not see it or feel it, but God is still good.
A little over 8 years ago, typhoon Pepeng settled on top of the Cordilleras and poured down rain for four or five days. At that time, there were landslides and flooding in many locations. One place was Little Kibungan in Puguis, La Trinidad. Approximately 77 people died on that day… parents, children, aunts, uncles, lolos, lolas, friends. God’s goodness was not evident that day.
Soon after, the rain stopped and people began their desperate search for survivors and for possessions, and then gradually towards finding bodies of loved ones. For most, God’s goodness wasn’t evident in those days either.
Soon after, cadets from the police training school at teacher’s camp began being bussed to Little Kibungan. They were given no shovels, no gloves, no facemasks. Eventually, a group that Celia and I were with were able to provide shovels, gloves, and facemasks. Until then, with their bare hands all day, day after day, they dug into the hardened mud searching for the bodies of those lost in the landslide. God’s goodness wasn’t evident to most in those days for these cadets… nor was it for the survivors as they buried their loved ones.
After that families were dealing with the emotional traumas of the experience… and dealing with the loss of home and possessions…. and putting their destroyed lives back together. The police cadets were also traumatized, and were now having respiratory problems because of breathing in the dust rising off of the dried mud as they dug away at the side of the mountain. God’s goodness wasn’t evident in those days either.
I apologize for the sad stories. But I suspect all of us have had days where God’s goodness is not visible… we may believe it is there…. but we can’t see it.
So let’s get back to the story of the shepherds. I believe the message wasn’t just to the shepherds, but to all of us. The angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people” . That certainly includes us.
But what is this good news? What is it that will cause great joy for all people?
God declares His message of peace to all people and His great pleasure in them… That’s nice. … Nice words are nice… but now he backs these words with action.
God has given us a Savior… this is not a title… but a description. A rescuer for all people.
God has given us a Messiah… the anointed one… the redeemer of His people… the one who has been promised by God for hundreds of years. God has kept His promise.
God has given us the Kurios… the Lord. In the context Kurios appears to be describing God Himself. The same word is used multiple times in this passage referring to God.
God is now among us… Immanuel… God with us. He is our savior… our rescuer. He is our Messiah… the redeeming one.
It draws us back to the words of the prophet Isaiah… describing the Messiah as being. Wonderful Counselor…. Mighty God… Everlasting Father… Prince of Peace.
If you think about it. The Christmas story is perhaps the most unambiguous demonstration of God’s goodness.
For us, somedays we feel great… other days we are sick, or tired, or weak. Some days we are successful… other days we are failures. Sometimes God seems good. And other times not so good.
But there is no such uncertainly in the Christmas story.
God demonstrated His promise to fix things…. to repair what and who was broken. To rescue the lost… to redeem and liberate the captives. To be God among us… with us. The prince of peace bringing peace. This is truly good news that should bring great joy to all peoples.
I am quite certain that if you don’t feel the goodness of God on some days… that your neighbors don’t feel God’s goodness every day either. But you can be assured that God is indeed good… his mercy is everlasting and his truth endures to all generations— as it says in Psalm 100. You can know this because God turned talk into action with the birth of Jesus.
While the choice of the shepherds as the recipients of the this good news seems a bit random. Why them. But, in fact, they were the right people for the right job. They provide a good example for us. Reading the Luke 2 passage again starting in verse 8 but continuing on to verse 20.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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.”
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.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
THE SHEPHERD’S HEARD ABOUT GOD’S GOODNESS. THEY WENT TO SEE IT FOR THEMSELVES… TOLD OTHERS ABOUT IT… AND PRAISED AND GLORIFIED GOD FOR ALL THAT HE HAS DONE. MAY WE DO LIKEWISE.
We don’t have to simply talk about God’s goodness as a sort of responsive cheer in church. We can point them to the nativity scene… perhaps the clearest demonstration of God’s goodness.
We can also praise and glorify God for all that he has done. We can know for sure… despite days we may doubt it… that God is good all the time… and all the time God is indeed good.