The title "Christ the Lord" would probably have been said as "Messiah Adonai" in the Aramaic that these shepherds spoke. This is a not-so-subtle intimation that this newborn child was not only the promised Messiah, but also the One known as "the Lord" in the Old Testament. The angel is not merely announcing the birth of a special baby in Bethlehem but that God had been born as a human being (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14)!
In verses 13-14, Luke writes: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" Here appears another BOOM! in the evangelist's narrative. Suddenly, there was not just one angel in the glory of the Lord, but a whole host of them all around the quivering shepherds. Not only were they visible, they were singing as only angels can, praising God. Their presence heightens the importance of the announcement.
The angels are obviously overjoyed that this greatly anticipated event in God's plan had finally taken place. Another huge step in God's purpose had been accomplished. Note, too, that this was not just a small, heavenly choir but the heavenly host that appeared in full force. God's vast army came to add their voices to the announcement that their great Captain had just been born!
The hymn they sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" requires some explanation. Glory is the Greek word dóxa, which means "praise, recognition, honor, worship"—the height of reverence and adulation that we could give or say to God. "In the highest" is a somewhat controversial phrase in that, as a superlative, it could modify either "glory" or "God." Thus, it could refer to the highest glory or the highest God (or even God in the highest heaven). There is a possibility that in the Aramaic, the words the angels sang may have been "Glory to the Most High God," since that is a common title of God in the Old Testament.
They also sing of peace on earth. One of Christ's titles is "The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6), and He who had just been born would eventually bring peace on earth. He would do it first through His sacrifice, making peace between God and sinful man (Romans 5:1), and later He would return in glory, bringing peace to the earth with the sword (Revelation 19:11-21). He will have to impose peace at His second coming, but once He does, the earth will have real peace. Only through the birth of God's Son in Bethlehem could the process of bringing true peace to the earth begin.
The final words in the angels' song are "goodwill toward men," a long-disputed phrase. However, most modern experts in Greek agree that the whole clause should be translated, "Peace on earth among men of His good pleasure." This implies that God was bringing peace and joy especially and specifically to those to whom He had granted favor or extended grace.
During the Passover sermon Jesus gave His disciples, He says, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you" (John 14:27). His disciples, numbering a mere 120 (Acts 1:15), were the only ones who could really experience peace because they comprised the extent of those with whom God had found favor. Yet, within days, thousands more had been converted, and God's peace began to expand. Real peace, a fruit of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:22), can only be produced in those in whom God's Spirit dwells (Romans 8:14). Right now, members of God's church are the only people on earth who can really have godly peace on earth because "unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given" (Isaiah 9:6).
We are the "men of His good pleasure." Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 12:32: "Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." We are the ones who have this favor from God. The angels' song is a declaration to us that God is with us, just as He was with Mary when He overshadowed her (Luke 1:35). As spiritual Israel and spiritual Zion, we are the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:9-10; Zechariah 2:7-8), and He will do all He can to bring us to salvation and into His Kingdom.
These passages mean so much more than what we usually see in a Christmas pageant, a nativity scene out on the town common, or hear in a catchy jingle. What we see in these announcements are elements of the way God works, and they should strengthen our faith in Him and what He is doing. They should solidify our hope in the resurrection because, not only did the Father bring His Son into the world just as prophesied, but He also guided Jesus through a perfect human lifetime to His sacrificial death for us all, resurrecting Him from the grave exactly three days and three nights later, as Jesus had said was the only sign of His Messiahship (John 2:18-22).
That glorious Holy One ascended to heaven and now sits at the right hand of God as our High Priest. He is the Head of the church and our soon-coming King. He promises us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5), as well as, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). He now awaits the word from His Father to return to this earth to set up His Kingdom. What great confidence we can have that all this will happen as planned, and we will be part of it!
As the angels sang to the shepherds in the field, "Glory to the Most High God and peace on earth among those He favors!"
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part Two): Nativity
Jesus' birth occurred in September or perhaps early October. This could not have taken place in December because shepherds would not have been out in the fields at night then. In Palestine, the rainy season transpires between the end of October and early April, with the most inclement weather occurring between December and February. In fact, around Jerusalem, much of the region's 24 inches of annual rain falls during this winter period. Shepherds did not want to keep the sheep in the rain and cold anymore than they wanted to be there themselves.
Most translations tone verse 9 down a bit from its intended sudden majesty. It should read, "And BOOM! an angel of the Lord stood before them." The angel's appearance was instantaneous and shocking! One second they were peacefully minding their sheep, eyelids half-shut, and the next, right in their midst, perhaps hovering just over their heads, stood an angel in all the brilliance of angelic glory!
Luke writes that "they were greatly afraid." What understatement! Today, we might say they were terrified out of their skulls! Occasionally, we hear of a person's supposed abduction by aliens suddenly in the night. Television and movies have visualized this for us—but what if an angel actually did appear abruptly before our eyes, radiating light like a huge spotlight and looking directly at us? Most people would be on their faces in an instant, probably holding their heads, wondering if a thunderbolt was about to strike!
The angel says to them, "Do not be afraid" (verse 10), trying to shush their fears a bit, although it is hard to say what success he had. At least he was able to communicate to them what he needed to say. Evidently, they were calm enough to listen to his announcement, despite their terror.
What he says is quite interesting: "I bring you good tidings of great joy." The Greek word for "I bring good tidings" is evangelízomai, literally, "I evangelize you," and his good news is a matter "of great joy." In a way, this is the beginning of the preaching of the gospel, as this is the sense of the Greek term. He is informing the shepherds that God had sent him as an evangelist to let them know that the way of salvation was beginning to open to all people. This was great news indeed for the common folk, as these shepherds were, who have rarely been considered among the worthies of society.
That God sent the first announcement of His Son's birth to shepherds among their sheep has an appealing, symbolic connotation. Recall that these shepherds were in the field watching over sheep at night when the angel, a messenger from God, illuminated them with the good news of salvation. Shepherds are biblical symbols of spiritual leaders or ministers, and sheep are well known to represent God's elect. Jesus' parables often employ the image of a field to signify the world, and the darkness of night stands for the condition of being cut off from God. This scene is a beautiful foreshadowing of the pattern God uses to evangelize through the gospel message.
Another intriguing fact, hidden in the English translation, appears in the last phrase of verse 10: "to all people." In the Greek text, a definite article appears before "people," so it should read, "all the people." When the Bible reads "the people," it usually refers to the people of Israel. The birth of the Savior was to be great joy for all people, of course, but especially for Israel. If we understand this spiritually, His coming has its greatest effect on the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), the church. Certainly, the church, to which God has revealed His way most fully, has both the fullest appreciation as well as the deepest understanding of Christ's coming in the flesh.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part Two): Nativity
The terms "morning stars" and "sons of God" are biblical names for angels, who express joy when events in God's plan unfold. Not only God but also angels are thrilled when a sinner repents of his worldly ways. Prayer for forgiveness brings about joyous repentance and restoration of righteousness in a person's life.
Martin G. Collins
The One we call Jesus Christ gave up His prerogatives and privileges as God and became flesh (Philippians 2:5-7) to be born of a virgin, Mary, who was betrothed to an upright Jew of David's lineage named Joseph. As announced by angels, Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea in a stable or grotto used as a stable, and she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger. Soon, shepherds came from the fields to see Him and spread the word of His birth, praising God. Sometime later, star-following wise men from the East visited, presenting Him with gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and worshipping Him. All these details can be found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.
Now, let us turn to the Scripture where God tells us to celebrate His Son's birth: —. Yes, that is correct. No place in either Testament tells us to honor our Savior by having a birthday bash for Him each year. Strangely enough, Jesus Himself tells us to remember, not His birth, but His death (Luke 22:14-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26)! Certainly, it is important that He was born, but the fact that He died—and how and why He died—has farther-reaching, more eternal consequences!
What about some of the other minor details of Christmas? To begin with, the date is all wrong. Late fall and winter in Palestine is the rainy season, and it can get quite cold. The best sources say shepherds bring their flocks in from the fields by October at the latest. Also, the details of John the Baptist's conception and birth preclude a winter birth for our Savior (see the Forerunner article, "When Was Jesus Born?"). At best, this time of year might qualify as the time of Jesus' begettal by the Father.
In addition, where does Santa Claus fit in? Was he one of the wise men? No, he is merely a gift-giving, fourth-century Saint Nicholas of Myra known for his piety and generosity. And what about Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, mistletoe, Christmas trees, Yule logs, twinkling lights, stockings on the mantle, and the other paraphernalia of this merriest of seasons? Even a perfunctory investigation will show that most of them derive from overactive imaginations or pre-Christian—that is, heathen, pagan, idolatrous—traditions and practices. It is an open secret, as it were.
To recap, then, the true biblical story of Jesus' birth has been syncretized into a non-Christian festival, and even that has been obscured by a wrong date and a phony crèche scene (no halos, the wise men came later, Mary was not dressed like a nun, etc.). Everything else is a lie, including the need to celebrate it.
This begs the question: Why do people think they can worship and honor God through a lie? The Old Testament says, "God is not a man that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19). Paul tells us, "God . . . cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). Jesus teaches that Satan the Devil "is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44). David, in Psalm 5:6, declares, "The LORD abhors the . . . deceitful man." Of course, the commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16; Matthew 19:18). Surely, a God who will not lie and detests lying people would not wish to be feted in a lying way.
The answer to our question, however, resides in human nature. First, the Bible says, "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Men simply do not want to obey God and His will. Second, the human "heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). We trick ourselves into believing that we can use a defiled means to worship a holy God. Third, "the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so" (Jeremiah 5:31). People actually like to be lied to because, they think, they can enjoy the sin while they can and point the finger of blame at someone else for deceiving them. This approach will not score any points with the Judge (II Corinthians 5:10-11).
We need to ask what Jeremiah does as he concludes his musings on man's deceitful heart: "But what will you do in the end?"
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Celebrating a Lie