As we approach Christmas this year, I want to write a short series of shorter posts about the good news of Jesus’ birth brought by the angel (Luke 2:8-20). We begin today with the angel’s appearing.
The angel appeared with the glory of the Lord. The word “shone” (v. 9) shows that glory on this occasion had its literal meaning of “brightness, radiance, or shining.” The light was so intense that the shepherds were “terrified” (v. 10). This matches some of the descriptions we have of special appearances of the Lord himself. For example, at the transfiguration, three apostles “saw his glory” (Luke 9:32), which consisted of his face shining like the sun (Matthew 17:2) and his clothes becoming a dazzling white, as bright as a flash of lightning (Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). Both the transfiguration and the appearance of the angel in Luke 2 were truly awesome, in the formal sense of the term, “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.”
I wanted to make sure we noticed this because sometimes we do not take the Lord seriously enough. In contrast to the casual way some people describe the Lord appearing to them, those who encountered him in Scripture were often utterly overwhelmed (Exodus 3:1-5; Leviticus 9:23-24; Judges 6:20-23; Isaiah 6:1-5; Luke 1:11-12; Acts 9:1-4).
Others of us go to the other extreme and have an undue terror of the Lord, which is closer to the response of the shepherds in Luke 2. People who are terrified by God need to hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, this is the most commonly repeated instruction in the entire Bible. Various people in various circumstances are told for various reasons not to be afraid. The reason in Luke 2 is that the angel and glory of the Lord had appeared to deliver a wonderful message.
We’ll look at the content of that message of good news in the next post, but for today, let’s think about the word “good news” itself. Here the word is a verb, euangelizomai, that means “to bring, tell or proclaim good news.” It’s meaning is clear from its makeup, a combination of the prefix eu (meaning good or well) with the verb angello (to announce).
It is appropriate that this good news was delivered by an angel (Luke 2:9, 10). Angel (Greek angelos) means “messenger,” and angels “announce” (Greek angello) messages from God (Luke 1:19, 26-28). You can see the similarity in the terms angel and announce in both English and Greek. When the message to be announced is good news (euangelizomai), you can still see the similarity.
I went into all that because we, too, are messengers. We are not angels, of course, but we share some of the same responsibilities as them. Specifically, we are envoys, called to announce the good news of God. If the Lord sent you to tell the good news about Jesus (and he has!), would you know what to say? Is the message clear enough in your mind that you could communicate it to someone?
Since the message the angel was sent to speak was good news, it is not surprising that great joy accompanies it. There are certainly problems in the world and in our own lives, but there is also good reason for great joy. We’ll explore that more in this series.
Finally, notice the angel said his message was for “all the people” (v. 10). Humans usually give preference to certain kinds of people and sometimes even shut out others who are different. But God cares about every human being without qualification. He loves and invites the poor and the rich, the weak and the strong, the ugly and the beautiful, the failures and the successful. Those who fall between these extremes are invited as well. This includes you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. God wants you to know this good news. It is for all.
In light of that universal invitation, it is fitting that God did not send his messenger to the political, religious, or social leaders of the day. Instead, he sent him to a group of shepherds. There is some evidence that shepherds were a despised class and vocation in the biblical world. Regardless, the angel clearly wasn’t sent to royalty, wealth or any other exclusive group. This in itself exemplifies the truth that the good news he brought was for everyone.
Just what was that news? Since we, too, are “angels” (messengers) of this news, we really need to know. To that we turn next week.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping people to be envoys who can tell the good news, see here.