Editor’s Note: It might seem unconventional to study the story of Jesus’ birth in February, but after preparing teaching material, the time to transform that lesson into online articles and queue them up (after other content in the schedule) typically results in a delay of some weeks. There’s really no bad time of year to study any part of the Bible, though, so I hope that you’ll still find this series to be useful.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the decorations of the holiday seasons. I like to give and open gifts. The older I get, the more I appreciate being with family. Outside of this season, I even miss some of the Christmas songs that get played too much after Thanksgiving. However, the true joy of Jesus’ birth is greater than any of these things. We can – and should – live in and share that good news throughout the entire year.
The text for the next “mini-series” of articles (which are based on passages from the Bible suggested from the “Lookout” publication, referenced below) happens to be the same passage that Linus Van Pelt quotes in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. While Linus had his security blanket, though, I will need to settle for the anonymity of the Internet!
In Luke 2:8-9, we meet some shepherds working in the fields near Bethlehem, when Jesus was born. An angel appears to them, and they are – understandably – frightened. However, the angel has good news to share:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Luke 2:10 NIV
This beginning of the angel’s statement has three parts that relate to the message we can – and must – still share today:
Good news: We might refer to good news as the “gospel”, and those two terms mean the same thing. However, while the message of the Messiah being born was good news (bringing along all of God’s promises related to the long-awaited promised One), the gospel that we share has even more details about what God did for us through Jesus.
Great joy: If following Jesus (that is, living as someone who has exchanged sin and death for righteousness and life through Him) has become a chore then, as the saying goes, “you’re doing it wrong”.
If a life with Jesus is just a bunch of rules, or boxes for us to check, we’ve missed the point of becoming a new creation and living in His freedom. Yes, we are called to do good things, and we go through trials and suffering. But, living in Christ should be a life of joy, because of Him (and sometimes, in spite of our circumstances). The new life with God that this baby brought us is a cause for celebration and rejoicing – not just when we bring out colored lights and gifts at Christmas, but the whole year through.
All the people: The staff here at First Christian Church (Canton, Ohio, USA) have repeated the phrase, “Jesus for All People”, for many years now. However, it is no less true now as it was when that became our motto. In fact, when the baby born in Bethlehem grew up, He told a Pharisee named Nicodemus about God’s love for the whole world (see John 3:16-21), and – to the surprise of many, I suspect – this love extended even outside of the Jewish people who God had chosen.
Now, this “all people” includes that relative that annoys you. It includes those people who you unfriend on Facebook. It includes whoever is in the political party, people group, foreign country, news station, or church denomination that you are currently angry with. All those people need Jesus, too, and can share in the same good news and great joy as the angels brought to those shepherds.
My youngest son suggested that I point out that the shepherds were among the lowliest in society (which puts him in alignment with commentators). In fact, as he said, much of what Jesus did was for the minorities and people against whom the society of that day were prejudiced. (Apparently, when I asked him about this passage, the recent lesson from his church youth group was fresh in his mind!) So, whether you feel like you are one of those outcasts, or whether you might have made statements or taken actions to distance other people from your community, let’s remember that God chose shepherds to hear and share the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Going back to verse 8: Depending on the translation of this verse, it might refer to these shepherds “living”, “staying”, or “abiding” in the fields. Regardless of the best rendering of the Greek in English, this might be a good time to remember that, even today, in your city and mine, some people may be out in the elements, without a warm house and family to be with. As the nights are long and the weather gets cold, let’s remember those who need shelter and clothing, as well as the hope and joy of knowing Jesus.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for December 19, 2021
- The Lookout, December 19, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.