Unless this is your first Christmas, you are probably familiar with the Christmas story. I know you’re thinking, “Yea Eric, they play it for 24 hours on Christmas and Ralphie almost shoots his eye out.” No, not that Christmas story. The Christmas story, the one about the birth of Jesus. We know all the details about shepherds and angels and a star and no room at the inn. We hear this story so much around this time of year that even those who don’t follow Jesus know the story behind His birth.
There is something about this story that I’ve always found strange though. Luke 2:8-10 tells about a frightening encounter some shepherds have with an angel.
“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
I can understand why seeing an angel in the middle of the night might be a little terrifying, but I think the shepherds’ reaction says a lot about how we react to God. Our first line of response to a message from God is that it must be bad news. These shepherds must have genuinely thought, “Wow an angel from heaven, he’s going to kill us!” and the angel has to tell them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.”
I don’t know why our response to God mirrors our response to being called to our boss’s office or getting a letter from the IRS — if God wants to talk to me I must have done something wrong and now He’s going to really give it to me. It’s interesting because the message of Christmas should erase that kind of bad-news mentality about God for us. If we really understand the message of the story we wouldn’t fear closeness to God. We would understand that the message isn’t just good news for good people or religious people or church-going people. It’s good news for all people and it has nothing to do with our behavior.
So what is the good news of this story? The angel told the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The message the angel brought is the same one that runs throughout the rest of the Bible. It’s that God sent a savior to the world and offered everyone salvation regardless of what they did or didn’t do. God doesn’t want to treat you like an employee who needs to be reprimanded or a student who needs to be punished. He wants to treat you like His own son or daughter.
In 2 Corinthians 5:19 the apostle Paul wrote, “… that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”
That word reconciled means compatible. God looked at us and He made us compatible to Him. How? Instead of dealing with our sin directly, He punished somebody on your behalf for your sin. He punished Jesus so He didn’t have to punish you. Once sin was out of the picture He was able to enter into a relationship with you. He worked it out so that your sin wasn’t in the way and you didn’t have to change a thing to be accepted by Him.
This message of Christmas is good news and not something to be afraid of. The story “God and sinners reconciled” gives us peace because we know God no longer wants to judge us based on our flaws or inconsistencies. The fact that God wants to talk to us shouldn’t make us feel fearful anymore and we should stop trying to relate to Him like a boss or a principle.
The good news that the angel was bringing is simple and still rings true today. Don’t be afraid. God doesn’t want to punish you. He sent you a savior and all you have to do is receive him. All He wants for Christmas is you.
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.