ďAnd 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.Ē Luke 2:8-11
Every once in a while I
run across someone who thinks that thereís no such thing as reindeer.
I saw hundreds of reindeer when I was a boy traveling through
Norway with my family. But
itís not surprising that some people think reindeer are mythical when
you consider the fact that they are often pictured as flying through the
air with Santa, bringing presents to good little boys and girls around
the world. Similarly, many
people think that angels are mythical creatures because the popular
culture has so thoroughly changed their character from the way they are
portrayed in Godís word.
Do people believe in angels
today? I wonder. If you
were to gather together all the pieces of angelic art that all of us
have in our homes, what kind of being would we see?
Would we see the angels with fiery swords keeping Adam and Eve
out of Paradise? Would we
see the avenging angel of death who struck down the firstborn of the
Egyptians to force Pharaoh to let Israel go?
Would we see the angel who in one night killed one hundred and
eighty five thousand Assyrians in order to keep Jerusalem from being
destroyed? No, this isnít
how angels are portrayed today. Nowadays
angels are mild, gentle, harmless, and feminine.
They are sweet and childlike.
They are mythical creatures, like Santa and his flying reindeer.
In the Bible, angels are
messengers of God who live in the presence of God and witness the glory
of God. Angels are
spiritual beings. They
donít have bodies. They
are depicted in the Bible as taking on the appearance of men.
In Isaiahís vision they are described as having wings.
The Bible makes it clear that God created angels as angels.
They are not human. They
cannot marry or reproduce. Human
beings cannot become angels and angels cannot become human beings.
Angels arenít the gentle and harmless creatures of myth.
They are powerful messengers of God who evoke fear in the hearts
of those to whom they appear.
The first words of the angel to
Zacharias were: ďDo not be afraid.Ē
The first words of the angel to Mary were: ďDo not be
afraid.Ē The first words
of the angel to the shepherds were: ďDo not be afraid.Ē
Why do the angels always begin by saying, ďDo not be afraidĒ?
Because Zacharias, Mary, and the shepherds were all afraid!
They saw real angels, not the angels of sentimental myth.
They saw messengers of God who lived in the presence of the holy
God and reflected that divine glory when they made their appearances to
sinful and mortal men.
What do you feel on the inside
when you consider that you are in the presence of God?
How confident are you that you can live with God, commune with
Him, talk to Him, and listen to Him talk to you?
Or does the prospect of being with God make you a bit nervous,
anxious, or even fearful? What
do nervous, anxious, and fearful people do?
They try to calm themselves and establish some sort of peace
within themselves. This is
the goal of every form of self-help religion that is sold throughout our
very religious country. Here:
follow these seven steps for securing spiritual peace and wellbeing.
But spiritual self-help schemes are really no more than spiritual
self-deception. The modern
myth of sweet and harmless and irrelevant angels bolsters up a modern
myth about a kindly but distracted and irrelevant God.
The angelic myths of our day may serve to cloud certain sobering
facts about God. Isnít
God Himself often seen as that good-natured Santa who says heíll bring
gifts only to the good little boys and girls but ends up making no
distinction between bad and good because he know which is which or he
doesnít really care?
When the glory of the Lord shone
on the shepherds they were terrified.
They knew that they were weak, small, and guilty.
They knew that the glory reflected in the angel who stood before
them was Godís glory, and they wanted to run and hide but they could
not. Who were they to stand before the glory of God?
Donít be afraid. The
angel doesnít talk just to soothe as we so often do.
We try to offer comfort to people who are afraid without knowing
for sure that what we are saying is so.
We just want to calm them down and so we talk.
But talk is often just talk.
Godís talk is never just talk.
Godís talk always brings what it says.
When the angel says to the shepherds, ďI bring you good tidings
of great joy, which shall be to all people,Ē those words bring the joy
of which they speak. A
messenger of God delivers Godís message.
And while it is true that God is holy and His glory cannot be
faced by sinful and mortal people like us, it is also true that this
holy and glorious God makes Himself known in such a way that we can face
Him. We can know Him.
We can confide in Him, trust in Him, run to Him, depend on Him,
and take refuge from all our troubles in Him.
Why? Let the angel answer why: ďFor unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.Ē
Take note of the word, Savior. If a Savior is born to you then you need to be saved.
But if you donít need to be saved then surely you donít need
a Savior. Do you need to be
saved? Do you need to be
rescued? If so, from what
do you need to be saved, rescued, delivered?
You need to be delivered from
yourself. Thereís a
reason why the shepherds were terrified at the sight of the angel of the
Lord. Thereís a reason Zacharias and Mary were both afraid when
the angel, Gabriel, appeared to them.
The reason is the source of religious mythmaking that redefines
God into the image of men. The
reason is our own sin and unbelief.
We are afraid of the real God because the real God demands what
we have failed to deliver. He
has every right to expect us to live before Him as He has commanded us
to live. He is our Creator
and the Creator has the right to govern His creation according to His
righteous standards of right and wrong.
Or do we want to argue with God? Do we want to question Him when He speaks to us His holy law?
Is God not right to demand that we honor Him above all created
things? That we revere His
name and worship Him alone? That we take to heart His teaching and neither ignore it nor
falsify it? That we honor
and respect those who are placed in authority over us?
That we help and not hurt our neighbor in every material need he
has? That we respect
marriage and keep ourselves chaste and pure in what we say and do?
That we be satisfied with what we have and not take from others
what belongs to them? That
we speak the truth to honor and help our neighbor and not repeat unkind
and harmful things about him? That
we help others keep what belongs to them instead of trying to take
advantage of their foolishness for our own benefit?
Does not God have the right to give us these commandments and
require us to obey them? And
havenít we all disobeyed them and does not our disobedience call for a
just God to punish us? This
is all true and we know it is true just as the shepherds who were
quaking with fear knew it was true.
Sinners in the presence of a
holy God can try to turn reality into myth.
But it wonít work. Reality
wins out over myth every time. And
this is why we can rejoice this evening.
The good tidings of great joy that will be to all people is no
myth. It is the literal
truth, and it is to you that God speaks this truth.
Jesus is born unto you. Unto
you who are burdened by anxiety and fear.
Unto you who must confess that you have sinned against God and
deserve His punishment and anger. Unto
you who have tried and failed and tried and failed and would think of
running away from God because you know He knows that you really didnít
try hard enough. Unto all
of you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the
The modern mythmakers who
sentimentalize Christmas beyond recognition so as to market this holy
season to people who want to face neither their sin nor their need for a
Savior will never succeed in changing Christmas.
Hereís why. Christmas
is Godís promise to us and Godís promise cannot fail.
When God joined the human race as an innocent baby born of the
Virgin Mary, God came to us in the only way we could possibly receive
Him. He joined us where we
live. He did not adopt a
human body. He became a
human being, body and soul. God
in His fullness became a tiny little baby without diminishing His deity
in any way. Without
limiting Himself or becoming less than God He became one of us.
Miracle of miracles! The
glorious and almighty God is now one of us!
He feels the pain we feel. He
faces the temptations we face, but He faces them with an impenetrable
purity that overcomes them. His
holiness cannot be challenged. He
is the only perfectly pure and sinless man who was ever born into this
And He is our Savior.
He joined the human race for us.
He lived His holy life for us.
He died the death of all sinners for us. This is how He saved us from our sins. Our sins cannot condemn us because that holy Child of Mary
chose to be condemned for our sins in our place.
More than that, He lived the life of perfect obedience to Godís
law that we failed to live. God,
for Christís sake, gives us the credit for Jesusí holy life, even as
He laid the blame for all our sins on this same Jesus.
As our God and our brother our Lord Jesus has rescued us from sin
Donít be afraid. Donít be afraid, dear Christian. Donít be afraid of your sins. They cannot claim you or condemn you. Donít be afraid of failing. Donít be afraid of suffering. Donít be afraid of losing. Donít be afraid of dying. Donít be afraid of anything in all creation. For Jesus is born for you. He is your Lord. He means you no harm. If God were your enemy, He wouldnít come to you in such a humble way. If Jesus were only for folks more important than you, then why did the angel announce His birth to shepherds? God comes to you in humility to take your burden away from you. And it is only in humility that you can receive Him. Thatís the reality of Christmas, stripped of all myth. Bow down before the Child of Bethlehem. See in Him your God. Finding God clothed in human flesh and blood, donít look for Him anywhere else. For when you find God in Christ, you have found your Savior.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus