How radical is the idea behind Christmas? The religious leaders at that time scoffed at the shepherds’ report of the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth. They no longer believed in angels. They certainly couldn’t imagine God Almighty—Creator and Governor of the universe—humbling Himself to visit planet Earth.
Yet the Bible predicted this. Among other things, Isaiah had proclaimed 750 years earlier that Jesus would be born of a virgin and would be called Immanuel, which in the original Hebrew language means “God with us.”
Furthermore, God sent an angel to convince Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father-to-be, that his fiancée’s unbelievable story was really true: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
So profound were the events of that first Christmas that thousands—perhaps millions—of angels celebrated. As the Gospel of Luke tells us in words immortalized by Linus each year on A Charlie Brown Christmas:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14 KJV).
“Fear not,” the angel told the shepherds. Why? “For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” So great that Luke, himself a Gentile, would be asked of God to write the longest and most detailed of the four Gospel accounts. And what was the great news? That on the first Christmas, two thousand years ago, God became one of us.
But of course, that’s only the beginning of the story. Christmas isn’t the climax of history, merely the opening chapter of the greatest story ever told.
By itself, Christmas is miraculous. But it’s not miraculous enough. In Scripture, the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” is never understood in terms of Christmas alone. The Gospel according to Luke immediately goes on to say, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
The Good News is always to be understood in terms of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. You see this not only in the Gospels, but throughout the New Testament.
In other words, God’s greatest gift wasn’t simply sending His Son, but sending His Son to live among us, to die for us, and to rise again…to offer us the forgiveness of sins, redemption, and adoption into His family forever.
May we never grow too old to contemplate the wonders of the greatest story ever told.