December 15, 1991

GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE

“‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;  he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10

If you had to pick a theme song for the average news broadcast, it certainly wouldn’t be “Joy to the World.”

Every time I turn on my radio or television, I hear about rapes and drive-by shootings.  I hear about bank scandals and government officials who misuse taxpayer money.  I hear the latest figures on the budget deficit and the unemployment rate.  I hear about the latest plane crash.  I hear which religious leaders are involved in sex scandals, which athletes tested positive for steroids or cocaine, and which entertainers have filed for divorce.

I’m sometimes amazed at how a television news anchor can report on one horrible event after another, and then, at the end of the dismal report, smile pleasantly and wish us a good evening.  Hasn’t he been listening to what he just told us?  Why doesn’t he tell us some good news for a change?  Instead of the happy sounds of “Joy to the World,” the average newscast could use as its theme something like “Gloom, despair, and agony on me;  deep, dark depression, excessive misery”!

I suppose one reason the news is often so depressing is that so many bad things do in fact happen.  The reporters aren’t lying, after all.  There really is a lot of crime and scandal and tragedy.

But there’s another reason why the news is so bad.  It’s because the media tend to report what is bad and ignore what is good.  They usually ignore what is normal and report on what is sensational.  The millions of ordinary people who get up in the morning, work hard at their jobs, and then go home to their families at the end of the day don’t make the news, but a mass murderer who dismembers his victims becomes instantly famous.  You seldom hear much about honest bankers, but the ones tangled up in financial scandals get plenty of headlines.  The thousands of airplanes that reach their destination safely receive no coverage;  the only plane that makes the news is the one that crashes.  Reporters aren’t interested in the thousands of faithful pastors caring for their congregations.  They prefer a juicy story about a priest who molests children or a media preacher who visits prostitutes.

The news media generally cover what is sad and sickening rather than what is good.  Before we attack the media, however, we had better face the fact that they do this only because that is what most of us find interesting.  That is what boosts ratings and sells papers.  We seem to like hearing about the troubles of others.  In fact, some of us aren’t satisfied even with all the genuine tragedies and scandals that fill the daily news, so we buy silly tabloids that are full of gossip and garbage that have no truth whatsoever.  Human beings are addicted to anything that is sleazy and sensational.  We simply won’t watch programs that portray what life is like for the average person.

If our news media had been reporting 2000 years ago, they would have been telling of the scandals and wild parties and the plots and underhanded politics in the Roman Senate and the court of Caesar Augustus.  They would have told eager audiences about the latest murders and rapes.  They would have told about social problems and wars.  News analysts would have commented on the census and the latest tax increases.  In fact, if you read ancient writers like Tacitus and Suetonius who did a report on the events of those times, you’ll find that that’s exactly what they wrote about.  Things haven’t changed very much.  The writers of ancient Rome were just as preoccupied with bad news and power politics as the modern media.

It’s no surprise, then, that when a baby boy was born in the obscure village of Bethlehem, not many people noticed.  Who would be interested in a poor young woman giving birth to her first baby, when they could get in on the latest scandal in Rome?  Like today’s reporters, the people back then were too busy talking about other things to take note of the birth of a baby.

According to the Bible, however, God’s reporters saw things from a different perspective.  When I say “God’s reporters,” I’m talking about angels.  The word angel in the original language means “messenger,” so it’s not stretching too far to say that angels are God’s reporters.  These angels, these reporters from heaven, were much more interested in bringing good news than bad news, and they knew that the birth of the baby Jesus was more important than any of the events that seemed important at the time.

In Luke 2, the Bible tells us about the birth of Jesus, and how the angels reported the news.

Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

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 of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;  he is Christ 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, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  (Luke 2:7-14)

As Steve Green just sang, that holy night long ago was very special because it was the birthday of the king, Jesus Christ.  Although Jesus was born in a very humble situation, and many people ignored him completely, the angels knew what a tremendous event this was.  Unlike media reporters who often focus on bad news, God’s reporters, the angels of heaven, spoke good news.  So if you’re getting tired of hearing bad news all the time, I hope you’ll take a few moments with me to think about some good news for a change.

The shepherds were terrified when the angel first appeared, shining with the glory of the Lord.  I’m sure their hearts were pounding and their knees were knocking.  But the angel told them not to be afraid;  he had not come to frighten them or bring them bad news.  Instead, he said that he had “good news of great joy for all the people.”

In fact, the news of the angel is still the best news anyone has ever spoken.  It moved the angels to praise God, it filled the shepherds with joy and praise, and for almost 2000 years now, the baby born on Christmas has brought joy to millions of people.  Christmas carols resound with words like “Joy to the world!  The Lord is come,” “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” and “Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice.”  These carols ring with joy because still today, the birth of Jesus is “good news of great joy.”

I realize that it’s pretty hard nowadays to experience great joy the moment you hear good news.  I’m as skeptical as anyone when something sounds too good to be true.  When a politician promises that if he is elected, everyone will live happily ever after, I don’t believe him.  When a media preacher promises a miracle for anyone who sends a large donation, my checkbook stays in my pocket.  When I get a piece of junk mail that says, “Congratulations, Mr. Feddes!  You may have already won a million dollars,” I’m not exactly filled with joy.  I toss it in the wastebasket where it belongs.

Sometimes even good news from an official source can turn out to be false.  Woodrow Nelson and his wife Lois discovered that they had a lottery ticket that matched the winning number for a grand prize of $12 million.  They were jubilant at their good fortune, at least for a few hours.  But lottery officials discovered that there had been a proofreading error when the winning number was published.  The Nelsons’ ticket was not worth $12 million after all;  it had all been a mistake … and the next day Mr. Nelson died of a heart attack.

It’s no wonder, then, that many of us are skeptical when we hear good news.  It may sound great, but too often it just isn’t true.  However, the good news of Christmas is different.  It will never let you down.  You’re not going to wake up one morning to find out that Christmas didn’t really happen.  Jesus is very real, and he is very much alive today.  I’m skeptical of many things, but the good news of Christmas is one thing that I believe with all my heart.  I know that it’s true, and as the angel said, it really is good news of great joy!

Well, what exactly is this good news of great joy for all people?  According to the angel, the good news of Christmas is this:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;  he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  In that one sentence the angel uses three keywords to describe the baby Jesus, three words that ring with good news:  Jesus is Savior, he is Christ, and he is the Lord.

Christmas is good news, first of all, because it is the birth of a Savior.  All people are prone to sins and mistakes, and so we need someone who can save us from our sins.  We need someone to rescue us from the punishment we deserve, and we need someone who can help us stop sinning.  All of us eventually die, and we need someone who can save us from the grip of death and enable us to live forever.  More than anything else, we all need a Savior.

If the world’s greatest need was information, God would have sent an educator.  If the world’s greatest need was technology, God would have sent an inventor.  If the world’s greatest need was money, God would have sent an economist.  If the world’s greatest need was counseling, God would have sent a psychotherapist.  But the world’s greatest need is salvation from sin, so God sent a Savior.  There’s nothing wrong with these other important activities, but none of them is the main reason God sent his Son.  More than anything else in the world, we need a Savior, and the very name Jesus means “The Lord saves.”  In John 3:16-17 the Bible says, “For God so loved that world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

God had every right to condemn the world for its evil–he could simply have destroyed us all–but instead he sent his own Son on Christmas to save us.  You discover that Jesus is your Savior the moment you believe in him.  He saves you from the power of Satan;  he saves you from God’s wrath against sin;  he saves you from ruining yourself;  he saves you from death and gives you eternal life.  So it is indeed good news of great joy that a Savior has been born.

Another keyword that the angel uses to describe the baby Jesus is “Christ,” and that word, too, is full of good news.  I have to admit that when I was younger, I sort of assumed that “Christ” was simply Jesus’ last name.  I’m David Feddes because my first name is David and my last name is Feddes, and so I figured he was called Jesus Christ simply because his first name was Jesus and his last name was Christ.  But the word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, and in fact, it’s not a name at all.  It is a title.  “Christ” is simply the Greek word christos, and it’s a translation of the Hebrew word messiah, which means “anointed one.”  The angel was telling the shepherds that their Messiah had been born.

And that was good news.  For centuries the Israelite people had been hoping and praying that God would send the perfect ruler, the Messiah.  The Lord had promised that a descendant of King David would sit on the throne of God’s people forever, and through various prophets, the Lord gave more details about the birth of the Messiah.  Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah had written about the Messiah and had even predicted where he would be born.  In Micah 5:2-5, the Bible says:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And he will be their peace.

Any Israelite who understood this tremendous, 700-year-old prophecy knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and that his birth would change the world.  So you can imagine the excitement the shepherds must have felt when they heard that Christ, their Messiah, had been born in Bethlehem.  God had kept his word.  The prophecy had come true, and the ruler who would change the world had come at last.

And so every time we celebrate the good news that the one born on Christmas is the Messiah, we remember that God always keeps his promises.  Every word God speaks is fulfilled.  Even if the Lord says something hundreds of years before an event occurs, it happens exactly as he said it would.  If you’re ever tempted to doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, remember the prophecies that were fulfilled down to the last detail when Jesus was born.  Not only was Jesus born just as Micah had predicted, but his Kingdom has spread throughout the entire world, just as the prophet had written.  Jesus the Messiah has brought hope and peace to the lives of millions of people, and we know that he is coming again to restore everything to perfection.  So it is indeed good news of great joy that Christ (the Messiah) has been born.

A final word that the angel used to show why Jesus is such good news is the word “Lord.”  This is the most astonishing word of all.  That little baby lying in the manger was none other than the Lord himself.  God had come to earth in the form of a human infant.  The prophet Isaiah had anticipated this event centuries earlier when he wrote:  “For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, (and listen to this) Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

That was what Isaiah had said, and now the unimaginable had actually happened!  God himself had come to live with his people.  The Son of God who sat on the throne of heaven, who ruled the universe by his power, whose divine majesty dazzled even the angels–this great Lord left the splendor of heaven and became a newborn child who cried when he was hungry, who shivered when he was cold, who nursed at his mother’s breast, who dirtied his diapers, who was just as human as any baby that has ever been born.  The Lord had become one of us.  He was still God, but at the same time, he was just as human as you or me.

Why is this good news?  Why does it matter that Jesus is both God and man?  To begin with, Jesus had to be divine in order to save us.  No mere human could live a perfect life, but the Son of God could.  No mere human could bear the sins of the whole world, but the Son of God did that when he died on the cross.

Not only that, but he had to be human in order to identify with us.  The Bible makes this point very powerfully in chapter 2 of the Book of Hebrews.  Jesus has become part of the human family, and so, according to Hebrews, he is not ashamed to call us his brothers.  He was made like us in every way, so that he would understand our hurts, and so that he could serve as our substitute and pay the price of our sins.  By sharing our humanity and dying our death and then rising from the dead, the Lord destroys the power of Satan, he sets his people free from death.  He is also able to help us when we are tempted by sin and when we are tested by suffering, because he has endured these things himself.  Never again can we think of God as some being in a distant throne room who has no idea what it is like to be human.  Because our Lord became one of us, he understands us completely and is able to save us.  So it is indeed good news that the baby Jesus was also the Lord.

Savior, Christ, and Lord–these three words show why the birth of Jesus is good news for a change.  And these words demand a response.  When the angel reported these words to the shepherds, those people couldn’t sit still.  They didn’t just applaud when the angels had finished speaking and say how much they had enjoyed the performance.  They wanted to see this baby for themselves!  The Bible says,

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.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  (Luke 2:15-16)

The good news of Christmas prompted the shepherds to respond personally, and still today, that same good news calls for a personal response.  You may hear some fine messages and enjoy some beautiful music this Christmas season, and perhaps you will even feel good and applaud at the end.  But if that’s all that happens, it would be like the shepherds enjoying the angels’ performance and then doing nothing about it.  That’s not the way to experience the real joy of Christmas.  Christmas is good news of great joy when, like the shepherds, you get to know Jesus for yourself.  Trust that he is your Savior, believe that he is the Christ, the Messiah proclaimed in the Bible, and worship him as your Lord and God.  You don’t have to go to Bethlehem to find him;  he is only a prayer away, and he is calling you right now.

PRAYER

O Jesus, you truly are good news of great joy.  Thank you, Savior, that you rescue us from sin and give us eternal life.  Thank you, Christ, that every promise of the Bible is kept in you, and that you reign as Messiah.  Thank you, Lord, that you left the splendor of heaven and humbled yourself as a baby in a stable, that you understand us completely and are not afraid to call us brothers.

And now, Jesus, help each person listening to me to receive this good news with joy, to trust in you, and to experience a Christmas more glorious than ever before.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.