“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
On a silent night 2000 years ago, likely in the spring time, while shepherds watched their flocks, they found themselves in the midst of an unexpected supernatural episode. Out of the calm evening sky, suddenly there appeared an angel from the realms of glory, accompanied by a shining light from the glory he radiated from being in the presence of the Holy One. Shepherds who were usually rugged men, familiar with fighting off hungry wolves, met something that evening more frightening than anything they would ever meet in nature. Theirs was the same response that every other human being has ever had upon encountering the Holy; these shepherds literally quaked at the sight of glories stream from heaven afar, to quote the popular Christmas hymn.
The only appropriate reply from the fearful angelic creature was, “Fear not.” (see also Gen 21:7, Dan 10:19). Not only did the angel tell the shepherds that they need not fear, but they gave the grounds for them to instead be joyful. ‘For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ The long-expected Messiah had come, and rather than fearing, which was their natural reaction, these shepherds had every reason to now rejoice.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the only appropriate response to anyone’s encounter with the Holy was to tremble. This was because of the inherent feeling of unworthiness that men feel in the presence of the Holy. Isaiah experienced this in his encounter with God (Is 6:1-5) as did Daniel (Dan 10:11). Augustine spoke of the Holy as causing him to be ‘a-shudder in so far as I am unlike it.’ Yet the message of this holy angel who visited the shepherd’s field was one of such great news, that fear was to be replaced by the only other appropriate response – that of joy.
When we think of joy, we often relate it to celebration and delight over certain circumstances of life. We can all think of days of our lives where we experienced great joy – the end of the school year, our graduation day, our wedding, the birth of a child – are some examples. Christian joy, however is something quite different. Christian joy is something that comes when we are hated, rejected, reviled and spurned – we are told in that day to leap for joy, for the great reward to be counted among those who are worthy of such persecution. (Lk 6:22-23). Christian joy is one that causes one to sell all he has in order seize the treasure (Mt 13:44). Christian joy will not only come in the future when we experience heaven itself, but is a present reality as we know that our names are written in heaven (Lk 10:19-20). Jesus told us that he spoke in order that our joy may be full (Jn 15:11).
On the day that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was every reason to rejoice. The incarnation of God in human flesh gives us every reason to rejoice as well. This week meditate upon the incarnation of Christ and write down as many privileges, benefits, reasons, or purposes that the incarnation accomplished over which you can rejoice.
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