Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of us have received a birth announcement at one time or another. Maybe you got one in the mail, or you might have received a phone call about a friend or daughter who has just had a baby. In recent years, couples have become very creative, especially when putting their baby announcements on social media. My wife recently told me of one couple who simply added an extra stocking to their mantle when they took their Christmas photo, and left people to guess.
As creative or extravagant as birth announcements go, I think “a multitude of the heavenly host” gets top prize for the best birth announcement. We can imagine the fear that suddenly gripped the shepherds’ hearts that first Christmas Eve. Without warning, they were surrounded by the brightness of God’s glory. They were terrified at the appearance of an angel, but the angel quickly reassured them, “Be not afraid.” He had good news to bring them. The shepherds had no need to fear because they had a reason for great joy, and that joy will extend to all people, even you and I. This good news and joy come from the announcement of the birth of one specific child. But what kind of birth is announced by angels? The angel identifies this child using three terms. This newborn boy is the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord. These three terms told the shepherds who this child was. So let’s unpack each one of them now.
He is the Saviour
What does the angel mean when he tells the shepherds a Savior has been born? Well, a saviour is someone who saves or rescues people from some danger or oppression. What kind of saviour was this child born to be? The answer to that question is connected to the child’s name. Nine months earlier, the angel Gabriel had told Mary that she was to name the child Jesus. The angel said the same thing to Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
He was born to save us from our sins. You and I are in desperate need of saving. If you have ever sinned against God, you need a Savior. Sin is rebellion against God, our disobedience against his commandments. That guilt weighs heavy upon us. Our sins would consign us to the grave and eternal damnation. And there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves or work our way out. We need a saviour that’s capable of rescuing us from this most profound distress. Only God can forgive sins against God’s Law. God came to do precisely that. God needed to be born in the flesh, as our brother. We owe a debt to God that we cannot pay. So, God became man to offer himself as our substitute. By dying on the cross in our place, Jesus willingly paid our debt. That’s why Jesus said, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mt 9:6). Therefore, your saviour was born to forgive you. To restore you to peace with God and peace with your fellow man.
He is the Messiah
The angel told the shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ.” Jesus is his name; Christ is his title. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah.” Both terms mean “the Anointed One.” Prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil in the Old Testament. Just as David had been anointed to be the king of Israel, the prophets foretold the coming of a king who would be David’s heir. The Lord had promised King David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. A Son of David would be anointed as the greatest king of all, reigning over an everlasting kingdom of everlasting justice and blessedness. God would rescue Israel from pagan enemies and fulfil all his promises through him.
And now, when the angel tells the shepherds that the Christ has been born, the message is clear: promise fulfilled. The Messiah, the Anointed One, great David’s greater son. That’s why the angel says that the child was born “in the city of David.” He could have just said, “in Bethlehem.” But by calling Bethlehem “the city of David”, the angel is calling attention to the promise made to David of the coming king. Finally, after all these long ages, the Messiah, the Christ, is here! The numerous prophecies that were already centuries old, are fulfilled in this child. This is the one long-predicted, long-awaited, the final anointed king. The final anointed Prophet. The final anointed Priest. In him, all the promises of God are yes!
He is the Lord
Finally, the most shocking part! The angel announces that this newborn boy is the Lord himself. The word “Lord” was the standard way to refer to the personal name of God himself. “Lord” is the way Christians usually refer to and address Jesus. This is the way the Church always confesses her faith: “I believe […] in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.” The baby born that night, lying in a manger, is none other than God himself. The ruler, the sovereign, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. The Lord of the universe.
The child in the manger is none other than God himself. We can say nothing more extraordinary: God became a child! Stop for a moment and think about that statement. God became a child! Here he is, poor, like us. Miserable and helpless, like us. A person of flesh and blood, just like us. He’s our brother. And yet, he’s God; he is mighty. God became a child! God and man have come together in one Person; that is Christmas in a nutshell. The Infinite has become the finite, and the Eternal broke into time. The fulness of the Deity dwells bodily among us. The Creator who fills all things, who made all things, who existed before all things, humbled Himself in this way, becoming bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, yet still remained God. The manger points to who this child is.
The angel choirs show up and sing: “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace goodwill to men.” Christmas is truly celebrated by those who know that they have no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, broken and miserable and helpless. We can have the peace of Christmas because God is with the lowly. God is with the poor and powerless. This is the good news of great joy that Christmas brings each year! “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” To you. Take it personally. You have reason to rejoice and shout for joy because God sent His Son. God became a child for you. For you, He was conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin. For you, He was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. No matter who you are, you can rejoice.
Rejoice if you are not righteous because this manger holds the one who justifies.
Rejoice if you are weak and sick because this manger holds the one who will make you well.
Rejoice if you are in captivity because this manger holds the one who makes you free.
Rejoice if you are poor because this manger holds your true treasure.
Rejoice if you are about to die because this manger holds your key to paradise.
Rejoice, for Christ is born. even these many centuries later, and his birth is good news for all people. He comes to bring peace on earth by reconciling us to God and one another. If we want to participate in the celebration of Christmas we cannot simply sit here like couch potatoes and enjoy the show. Instead, we are invited to join in the scene at the manger. We are drawn into the drama in Bethlehem. Bend your knees in humility just like the shepherds bowed before the manger. Kneel because God became a child. Ponder these mysteries and store them in your heart like the Virgin Mary because God became a child. Sing carols of praise to God with all the angel hosts because God became a child. God became a child for you and for your salvation! Nothing in this world, not even an epidemic, can take that away from you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.