How the angel’s announcement broke the silence of the airwaves
My wife and I were entranced the other night by a relatively old DVD in which American pastor Louie Giglio refers to what he calls the Twelve Words of Christmas spoken by an angel to terrified shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.
The immortal words were of course: “A Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:11)
The prophets had been silent for 400 years, yet there was much expectation among the people of Israel for the coming of Messiah – hence the questions first asked of John the Baptist, and then of Jesus himself, as in John 10:24: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
I love the thought, expressed by Louie, of those four centuries of silence being broken by the sound of a baby crying! God had ‘moved into the neighbourhood’, as it were. The eternal Word, who was with God from the beginning and through whom the world was made, had come to live (or tabernacle) among us, fulfilling the sign announced by the prophet Isaiah, that “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).” (Isa 7:14)
The night that changed the world
It was the night that changed the world, when God took on flesh and became man in order to pave the way for our salvation – his very name, Jesus (or Yeshua), means Saviour. It was the night that inspired some of the most sublime music ever composed, including the carol Silent Night (though I can’t imagine the new-born didn’t cry) which even stopped a blood-soaked World War I in its tracks when soldiers from both sides agreed a spontaneous Christmas truce and the guns fell silent.
A few years earlier, on Christmas Eve 1906, the angel’s announcement of the Christ-child’s birth became the first-ever spoken words on radio when Reginald Fessenden read the appropriate passage from Luke’s Gospel. Yes, the silence over the airwaves was broken by the greatest story ever told. And when he had finished reading, Reginald got out his violin and played the classic O Holy Night.1
A message of good news
Joy and peace were key to the message. For the angel told the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) And a heavenly host then announced “peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests”. (v14)
Neither peace nor joy are much in evidence during these dark days of Covid, yet it’s just as available now as it was to those humble shepherds. Jesus, when he became an itinerant rabbi, was full of joy (Luke 10:21) and longed for his disciples to know that same experience (John 17:13). It was even “for the joy set before him” that he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
A good friend of ours who has been in prison for some years wrote in his Christmas card: “This will be my last Christmas enjoying the pleasure of Her Majesty’s accommodation…I have had plenty of time to get used to being locked down, so the Covid experience has not been too hard for me. But most of all I have enjoyed the time to study much of the Bible in depth and listen to international speakers on the various Christian radio channels…Let us look for the wonderful blessings of Christmas and make sure we have room for our Saviour…”
More time to reflect this year
Our nephew has expressed the wish that lockdown might cause people to consider the reason for the season, which is certainly the purpose of a penetrating new devotional book, At Home in Advent,2 by Gordon Giles, Canon Chancellor of Rochester Cathedral.
For example, in addressing the environmental argument against Christmas trees, he writes of the danger of the green narrative assuming a quasi-religious tone effectively substituting what Jesus offers with a DIY method of redemption.
Damage to the environment has become “the great sin of the 21st century”, he writes, for which we had allowed the cutting of carbon emissions to become the means of our own salvation.
But this “flies in the face of the messages of both Advent and Christmas”, he argues, explaining that environmentalism needs to be set in the context of the faith and hope we have in Jesus.
“For, as John the Baptist said, it is Christ who takes away the sins of the world – not carbon neutrality or preventing climate change. Ours is not a world that can save itself, but we do have a God who, in Christ, can save us from the greater death that comes after heaven and earth, and we, have passed away.”
Christmas, he says, is all about Jesus and the salvation of the world which “is to be found not amid the woods of Christmas trees, but in the wooden manger.”
The Best Christmas Gift
My prayer is that believers, and those still seeking for answers, will discover as never before the joy of knowing Jesus as they unwrap the greatest Christmas gift of all.
The Wise Men travelled an estimated one thousand miles across the desert to pay tribute to the infant Saviour with the most precious and appropriate gifts they could find. Wise men still seek Jesus. The Bible says: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6) You won’t always have the opportunity, or feel his closeness, so don’t put it off. Your eternal destiny depends on it.
The Bible tells us not to get drunk on wine, but to be filled with the Spirit as we sing songs of praise to God. (Ephesians 5:18f)
Jesus is the real joy-giver! If you hand your life over to him, the baby once held by his mother Mary will become the Lord and Saviour now holding you!
1From the Passion Talk series DVD The Twelve Words of Christmas (2009)
2Published by the Bible Reading Fellowship