And 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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” – Luke 2:8-15
Today we celebrate good news of great joy that is for all people: God himself has come to earth to save us. But what has he come to save us from? The very thing that has robbed us of life: sin. The angels’ announcement was good news for all people, because all of us have sinned and fallen short of what God intended for us.
During the Advent season, as the days got shorter and the nights longer, I became acutely aware of the painful effects of sin–mine and everyone else’s. I suspected the Holy Spirit was getting me ready to receive the One who came to address it.
When I have been sinned against, I welcome such a saviour. I am glad Jesus has come to validate the injustice I have suffered. I want him to defend me and address those who have wronged me.
But what happens when I’m the sinner? The news that Jesus has come to address my sin does not sound good, nor does it fill me with great joy. No one likes to be found guilty. The angels knew that, yet they beckoned us all to rejoice. They wanted everyone to celebrate because Jesus did not come to condemn and reject us, but to inform and return us to God. For what is sin but a turning away from God and his love?
All of us have at one time or another turned away from God–the only one who can meet our deepest needs–and tried to get what we want from others. But they were not designed to meet all our needs. And so, on some level, they felt violated because, in fact, they have been. They have been sinned against.
The Old Testament prophets, seeing the harmful results of sin, told people to turn from their ways and stop sinning. They named the people’s wrongs and implored them to do what is right. When I read these passages I feel convicted. I know they are speaking to me about my sin too. But I often miss the word “turn” and skip right to “stop.” I feel ashamed of my sin so I try not to do it again. I may be successful for a time. But using determination alone to deal with sin is as about effective as taking an analgesic to heal a broken bone. It may kill the pain, but it won’t fix the problem.
I have come to realize that sin indicates a problem of orientation and proximity. When I turn away from God and move away from him to seek security, significance, and empowerment from others, I will inevitably leave a trail of suffering and anger.
God’s solution to all this violence was to send Jesus to redirect us to himself. When I turn toward Jesus, his light reveals the goodness of God. I am drawn closer and experience God’s loving attentiveness, faithfulness, power, and provision. God invites me to ask him for what I need and, as I wait on him to provide it, I become rightly related to others.
“Come and follow me,” Jesus said to his disciples. When they weren’t sure they could trust him, he said, “Come and you will see.” When they got confused and lost their way, he found them–crying in the garden, disappointed on the road, guilty by the shore–and led them back to God.
On Christmas we celebrate the good news that God has come to save us. Jesus–laid in a manger, nailed to a cross, risen to life–did what it took to reorient us and bring us home.
And that is good news indeed.
Merry Christmas, everyone!