For many people who buy nativity scenes, I’m sure that it’s no more than, “It’s religious – it makes me feel good – and look how cute it is!” Cute? Imagine the scene. A teenage girl giving birth to a son in a field or hut without a bed, without sheets, without help. God’s messenger arrives to tell some nearby shepherds about it. What does he say? “Don’t be afraid, for I bring you good news which will be great joy for all the people: today there is born to you a little baby, and he’s so cute over there in his wee manger!”
Of course not! Listen to what the angel really said to the shepherds:
So he’s more than a cute little baby – and more than a man who will give nice teaching when he grows up. So what is he? How come a cute baby in a manger is something to celebrate? How is this news so good? How is it something of great joy? We all seek joy, and this messenger from God claims to announce someone who would give it to us – so what is this Christmas message?
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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
The angel announced a Saviour, the Christ and the Lord. What does that mean?
Jesus came to be the Saviour. Saviour of what? Of us - our Saviour. We all recognise that there is something not right with this world. War, terrorism, violence, racism, family problems, corruption, lying, pursuit of money, success and happiness without ever attaining it. God says that the roots of the problem are deeper: they’re found in each one of us. Wars? Do you love everyone, everyone else, just as much as you love and take care of yourself? Corruption? Have you never cheated? Racism? Have you never had a prejudiced thought about someone of a different cultural background? Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” And God our creator is far from happy about all that – it’s to rebel against him! We try to say that it’s everyone’s fault but our own – but we don’t pull the wool over God’s eyes: he knows us. And despite that, and for that, he has provided us with a Saviour. Someone to save us from his anger against our rebellion. We know well that the little baby, come as Saviour, grew up and went to die – and he said that he was dying to be the Saviour: to take our place. That’s the Saviour. That’s why the angel announced, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news”! A Saviour who died in your place means that you can be forgiven if you trust in him. A Saviour who died in your place means that for those who trust in him, the punishment is already done: you can be reconciled with God. Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news!
Jesus came as the Saviour; Jesus came as the Christ.
It isn’t his surname: it’s a title. It means that he is the one God had promised for a long time. The one who would fulfil all God’s promises to give a Saviour to resolve the problem of our heart faced with the perfection of God – faced with his anger against our rebellion. He has come! Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news!
Jesus came as the Lord.
This Saviour isn’t one option among many. He is not just a prophet. He is not “Lord for those who respect him”. He is Lord, the angel said. He is the Lord. The master. The boss. Of everyone. Of all creation. Albert II is the king even if there are anarchists. He is the king of the anarchists even if they don’t want to accept it. Jesus is the Lord of us, rebels, even if we don’t want to accept him. He will come again and on that day everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord whether or not they have confessed it beforehand.
That is why the announcement of Jesus the first time, as Saviour, was such good news! Because he offers us reconciliation with him before he comes again to be recognised by all as Lord. Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news.
There has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. There has been born to you this Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord. Really, what good news! What a reason to celebrate! But not in fact if you don’t accept him as Saviour. If you don’t trust in him as Saviour, if you don’t turn from your self-centred life to follow him as the Lord he is, you aren’t reconciled with him. In that case, there’s nothing to celebrate. Don’t do it. Trust in him.
Listen to the reaction of the shepherds to the announcement of the angel. When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” It’s well worth making the effort to see Jesus, who has come just as God has made known to us. It’s all written in the Bible in the testimonies about Jesus, which I invite you to read. I also invite you to come to the GBU group, as we’re in the middle of studying Luke’s account together: you’d be very welcome. But consider Jesus. To miss a baby in a manger isn’t serious. To miss celebrating Christmas isn’t the end of the world: it won’t change your life. But to miss the Saviour whom God has provided for us? Don’t do it. Consider carefully the Saviour whom God has given us. Consider Jesus.
“…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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
[All Bible quotes from NASB, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation] Translation notes:
- Albert II is the present King of Belgium.
- I've not followed a particularly consistent theory of translation here: sometimes dynamic, as in saying "far from happy" and "pull the wool over God's eyes"; mostly more literal but probably to the extent of being clumsy English at times.
- Translation really is a tricky business - I mean, in not using the French translation of the Bible passages I lost a link here: '"...and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." It’s well worth making the effort to see Jesus, who has come just as God has made known to us.' In French an entirely literal translation reads, '"...to see this thing which has arrived, which the Lord has made known to us." It's well worth making the effort to see Jesus who has arrived as God has made known to us.' You can see it links and flows better in French than in English.
- French is generally good also for directing exhortation at individuals - each direction or instruction (eg. "think about Jesus") must be accompanied by a person (eg "let us think about Jesus" / "you plural think about Jesus!" / "you singular think about Jesus!").
- On the other hand, when I was writing the talk I really struggled to find a good French way of saying, Consider Jesus! In the end the best I could get was a combination of the approximate equivalents of "Pay attention to" (which I've dynamically translated above as 'consider carefully') and "Reflect on" ('consider', above).
- The structure found often in the NT "the X of Y" is the only way of saying "the [object] of [subject]" in French - eg "...the Saviour of us". This is clumsy in English yet the accurate, "he's our Saviour" can also imply that we own him rather than that we are the object of his salvation. I therefore translated this firstly "as the Saviour of us" and then added "- our Saviour", but am not happy with this. I appreciate that this is being argued between Gordon Fee & co and the ESV translation camp. The righteousness of God (non-English), or God's righteousness (less clear)? The Saviour of the world, or the world's Saviour? Ha - just put it in French and you've no such problems.