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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Good News---Good Tidings!

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12).
While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around, and glory shone around

What events can you recall in your life that caused you acute fear? By this I mean a fear that startles you, that is immediate, and normally short in duration but can leave you breathless at the time.

An event that comes to my mind happened about 30 years ago when I was with a friend, Tom Schatz, taking down some large trees on our church property in northern Pennsylvania. Tom was a capable woodsman but one tree felled the wrong way and onto a high voltage transmission line resulting in the loudest boom I've ever heard. We were both very startled but were unhurt, although due to the electricity grounding through the tree, we could have been killed.
Just over five years ago Brooksyne was driving our '99 Town & Country van when a car rammed into it from behind (the driver was texting) pushing her vehicle into the oncoming lane which left her and Ester totally defenseless. As a black Cherokee was coming at 40 MPH toward them Brooksyne had only a couple seconds to fearfully cry out, "Jesus!" The 18 year old driver swerved into a resident's front yard avoiding a head on collision with our van, though her side mirror grazed the driver's door of the van. Angels, though invisible, were surely sent to protect Brooksyne, Ester and the oncoming driver as they were saved from a potentially fatal accident.

In our text today we read of an angel that was commissioned not as a protective guardian but as a heavenly messenger to the lowly shepherds: "In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened" (Luke 2:8,9).
Shepherds were the first profession mentioned in the Bible, "Abel was a keeper of sheep" (Genesis 4:2). Interestingly, this first shepherd was also the first blood sacrifice!

The source of the shepherds' fear was two-fold:
1) "An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them." Their silent and dark night was pierced by a brilliant light radiating from the visiting angel.
2) "and the glory of the Lord shone around them."  Just as they're trying to grasp the reality of being visited by a heavenly messenger they suddenly encountered the Shekinah glory of God.

This is a passage many of us have read and heard since we were children and many will recall the KJV rendering "sore afraid". In its simplest understanding this could be understood that their fear actually hurt them physically making them "sore". Other versions state "filled with great fear", "terror-stricken", "absolutely terrified" (see here for a nifty comparison of many versions).

We can only imagine the fear of this moment. In the stillness of the dark night, the angel appeared unto the shepherds, revealing the glory of the Lord. It seems very unlikely that these men had ever encountered such an event and were unsure what was about to transpire. Fear was a natural and understandable response to such an amazing encounter.
On the plain physical level the shepherds were fearful at what surely was a most unusual phenomenon. Sensing their fear, the angel responded with words of comfort to them, "Do not be afraid", seeking to calm their fears before he shared the best good news in all of history. I wonder how this angel was selected, out of all the heavenly host, to convey the good news of Christ's birth to the common people on earth? Prior to this passage Luke records two other instances of a message by the angel to fearful humans: "Fear not, Zacharias" (Luke 1:13) and "Fear not, Mary" (Luke 1:30).
The angel didn't just state
"Do not be afraid" and then disappear into heaven, but he gave the first Gospel announcement following Christ's birth which has been referred to as "The Christmas Gospel".
The shepherds were the first to hear the Christmas Gospel!
The shepherds were the first to believe the Christmas Gospel!
The shepherds were the first to proclaim the Christmas Gospel!

"So we have Royalty clothed in rags; Majesty emerging in the midst of the mundane; Eternity stepping into time; and the most prominent event of all human history being noticed by no one but…a handful of outcasts." *
"Fear not," he said, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind, to you and all mankind."

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber


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