Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
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 favor 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.”
In these partial vignettes pulled from Luke chapters 1 & 2 we encounter ordinary lives impacted with astounding news delivered with startling abruptness. In each case the angel comforted those being visited that they should not be afraid. Moreover, the angel spoke to each of good things coming to them – a prayer answered, a favorable position with God, and good news that when spread abroad would bring great joy.
What was delivered through the agency of angels to unsuspecting people is to some degree well known by all reading this note. John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, as promised became the one bearing a message of good news “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Mary did conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus, “the Son of the Most High”. Those shepherds to whom the angels appeared that night did go to see what the Lord had told them and found Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Having found them, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.”
Whether old like Zechariah, young like Mary, or living near the edge of society like the shepherds, the Merry Christmas message this year is not to be afraid. There will always be trouble in the world and in our own lives, many times trouble of the ugliest and most painful kind. With trouble comes fear. How can fear be put aside? By this reason only, there is “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Matthew Henry states it best – “Let men have the joy of it: On earth peace, good-will toward men. God’s good-will in sending the Messiah introduced peace in this lower world, slew the enmity that sin had raised between God and man, and resettled a peaceable correspondence. If God be at peace with us, all peace results from it: peace of conscience, peace with angels, peace between Jew and Gentile. Peace is here put for all good, all that good which flows to us from the incarnation of Christ. All the good we have, or hope, is owing to God’s good-will; and, if we have the comfort of it, he must have the glory of it.”
Merry Christmas, Marc & Kathie Thurston