One of the most read portions of Scripture during this Christmas time is that of Luke’s account in ch.2. Here, we have the earlier account of Jesus’ birth, as well as the appearance of the angel of the Lord and the heavenly hosts to the shepherds. When I say ‘earlier’ account, I mean that Jesus had just been born. Matthew’s account, with the arrival of the magi, would have been much later. Noting these magi would have travelled from a far eastern land, some project Jesus to be between the ages of 1 and 2 years old at that time. But Luke gives us an almost immediate account.
When reading over Luke’s story this year, I noted 3 particular words that the angels spoke. They are 3 characteristics that we are to expect to flow out of Christ’s arrival.
This comes from the first statement of the angel of the Lord: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people (vs10).
This word here, joy, is not too unlike the response we read from the magi in Matt 2:10: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
This news being announced, this gospel, this evangel, was to cause great joy for all the people. It was to cause great joy for shepherds, for magi, for male, for female, for Jew, for Gentile, for parents, for children, for ALL!
When we think of Christ, do we think of joy?
Or, a better question: When we think of Christianity, does the image of joy come forth?
Not so much, at least for some. But this should change.
But what is joy?
Some distinguish it from happiness. One can know joy even in trial and difficulty, while we usually note happiness is based in circumstances. And I agree. But what I noticed this time in studying a little bit of the Greek is that the root of joy is connected to the root of the word grace. Joy finds its foundation in grace. And such would be expected. The fruit of the Spirit, of which joy is one of them, are based in the gracious work of God. Right?
But, even more, I think what best communicates this word joy is delight. The one who experiences delight, experiences joy, is not one filled with complaint. You’ll never find delight leading to dissatisfaction. And the arrival of Christ communicates that delight and satisfaction have come at their best.
This isn’t some high spiritual quality for an elite group. As the angel reminds us, it is for all the people. Even you and I.
So I think a better translation might just be: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great delight and satisfaction for all the people.
One who is overjoyed is one who has been filled with delight and satisfaction. And I can find nothing better than delighting in and being satisfied with Christ.
Later on, in vs14, we read this sung proclamation of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.
Remember, they sung it. Imagine what the shepherds were thinking after they heard the song of the heavenly hosts? Wow!
Just as with joy, here is another word common amongst Christians – peace.
This Greek word here is where we derive our word irenic. We could flesh it out even more to mean the end of strife and conflict.
We know the well-quoted verse of Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. But I actually appreciate the translation of the NASB: Cease striving and know that I am God.
If you note the context of the psalm, the author is relaying that things have gone haywire in the world. The poetic description is that of the earth is giving way, the mountains falling into the sea, the sea waters roaring, the mountains quaking. Not too unlike our world today.
The coming of Christ is to bring an end to all of this. It must cease at the rule of Christ, the prince of peace.
The people of God stand at peace with their God and Father (see Rom 5:1-2). But this peace is also to be extended to the earth. We proclaim a gospel of peace, a gospel that says all strife and conflict with God, with humanity, and the earth, must come to an end because of the reign of Jesus Christ.
Let all, even creation, here the proclamation: Cease striving and know that he is God.
The last word is found in vs14 as well: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.
Some Bible translations speak of good will resting on mankind, humanity.
One thing that so many find it hard to believe, even Christians, is that the God over all has our good in mind. Especially noting what happened last week in Newtown, USA. Matter of fact, I’ve found that a couple of my favourite authors have defined sin as turning to other things because we believe God does not have our absolute good in mind.
I cannot convince people that God has only good intentions for them. This has to be something we see from God ourselves. And it will call for a major breakthrough. We live in a world with hurt, pain, tragedy, difficulty, disease, and much more. And we find ourselves continually asking: Why?
We are left as agnostic Christians at times, not quite sure if we truly believe what we say we know in our heads. And it’s ok. God is not scared of our questions, our doubts at times. We all have them. All of us.
But God really does have our good in mind. He has good intentions for all of us, all of humanity, all of creation. It’s just that we’ve been lied to, mainly by the great liar of all time, the Satan.
You know God did not send Christ so he could love us. He sent Christ because he did love us, he already had good in mind for us. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son…
So maybe a better translation of vs14 is this: Glory to God in this highest heaven, and on earth restful peace and the end of strife to those on whom his good intentions rest.
Jesus has told us that if anyone has seen him, they have seen the Father. Christ is the embodiment of the Father. And this Father, through his Son, wants us to know the joy, delight, satisfaction, peace, well-being, end of strife, favour and good intentions of his heart towards us.
Let us not miss it this Christmas, this season. Let us not miss it into the new year, into the spring, into the summer and year round. Let’s remember the words of the angels long ago that still ring true 2000 years later.