Tidings of Great Joy

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:9-11

There is an excitement that fills the air this time of year. Beautiful sights and smells, delicious foods, time with family and friends—all of these help build anticipation for that hopefully wonderful day we know is coming. For those who are in Christ, we are filled with joy, thankful for the birth of our Savior.

I think about that night long ago, the shepherds watching their flocks, and I am struck by the contrast. There is no anticipation, but rather surprise. No merry songs, no delectable treats, no decorations. I imagine the stillness, the quiet, the darkness… and the sudden flood of light. The shepherds’ reaction is exactly what I would expect: fear.

The text keeps us from thinking the shepherds were merely startled, surprised, or confused. No, they were filled with great fear. Filled. Terrified. Why? The angel of the Lord has appeared, and the glory of the Lord is shining around them! I’ve imagined the flood of light many times, but never made the connection to the glory of the Lord until recently.

Consider the transfiguration or the resplendent picture of Christ in Revelation: glorious, magnificent, dazzling, blinding light emanates from Him. Consider Isaiah’s response to a vision of God’s glory: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Image by Klemen Vrankar
Image by Klemen Vrankar

This light of God’s glory evokes a response in man because we are faced with the reality that we are seen by a holy and righteous God, and found wanting. Just a glimpse of the glory of God, and we are aware of the great chasm between His perfection and our imperfection, His holiness and our sinfulness. No one can experience His glory without feeling naked, exposed, and filled with dread.

As those shepherds were filled with this dread, the comforting words came: fear not. The reason? There is good news! Christ is born, our Savior! This is the gospel in a very brief form, but nonetheless a message able to take away the fear of the shepherds and replace it with great joy. In fact, it’s the only message that can!

Just like those shepherds, we have the opportunity to replace fear with comfort and joy. Instead of fearing judgement for offending a holy God, my comfort is in knowing Christ paid my debt by dying in my place. Instead of trusting my own righteousness and being found wanting, my comfort is in trusting Christ’s righteousness. My joy this Christmas and throughout the year is in the same gospel: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.