Coxy's Christmas Message 2015
The angel in the darkness
24th December 2015
Why did God send the angels at night? And why did he send them to a group of shepherds - ordinary working men? Perhaps he wanted their experience to be a kind of parable for us about light breaking in to darkness, about God breaking in to human lives, because that's why Jesus came to earth, isn't it?
There's still a lot of darkness around. When we hear about what's happening in Syria and Iraq right now, we're rightly horrified. How can people's understanding be so dark that they actually think that it makes sense to execute 10-year-old boys for having a different set of beliefs? And when we think about the carnage in Paris and San Bernadino recently, we realise our comfortable western lives are under threat. The darkness seems to be growing. In our country, respect for Jesus Christ, and for the Bible, seems to be growing less, not more.
John 1:5 tells us "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." The last 2,000 years have proved how true that is.
And in many individual human lives, including the lives of many Christians, things can sometimes seem very dark. Whether through illness, loneliness, broken relationships, depression or our own bad choices, many people don't know what to do, or who to turn to, or if their situation can improve.
And yet, in the deep darkness, just like that night on the Judean hillside, God sends an angel. And the first thing the angel says is, ďdonít be afraidĒ or, perhaps, "don't panic".
When you're sitting on the hillside in the dark, the sudden appearance of a shining angel must be a bit of shock. When God first breaks into our lives, our first reaction is often one of fear. The Bible says the shepherds were terrified. For many of us, the idea of God actually getting involved in our lives is frightening. We expect Him to disapprove, to punish us, to take away our comforts, and make us miserable. When God first sends an angel, we can forget that we're miserable already, and we often don't think God's come to improve the situation.
But the angel said, "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy". When God sends an angel to us, it's to give us good news! We all need God, we just don't like to admit it. God, being perfect, can make a much better job of our lives than we can, but we're not sure at first that we can trust Him. We don't like to give up control, and at first, we don't really believe that God likes us. But the angel promised good news.
There's not much good news in the darkness. A shepherd on the hillside at night just wants to get through to morning without either himself or his animals being attacked. You develop a very defensive attitude when you're a shepherd, you want to protect what little you have, perhaps even from God. And we can be the same. When things are dark enough, we can give up on the idea that our lives can be beautiful, and settle for just getting through the day more or less in one piece.
The angel promised them that his good news was of great joy. He came to make the shepherds happy. He came to improve their lives. And he assured them that this good news was for all the people - including them! And including us! And God sends an angel to you, because you're included too.
The angel that appeared to the shepherds was a heavenly being - pure and holy, big and a bit scary. But the word "angel" just means "messenger", and the angels God sends to you are probably humans. They're probably just ordinary Christians from a local church, who come to bring you good news of great joy. When they come, don't panic. They're there because God loves you.
The good news of great joy is this: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. That's why we celebrate Christmas. For many, Christmas is a chance to relax and have a party. For others, it's a chance to see their family. Christians do that stuff too, and itís wonderful. But for Christians, for the ones who listened to the angel when he came, Christmas is firstly a celebration that the Saviour has been born.
Have you heard the expression "Keep Christ in Christmas"? Well, whether you keep Christ in your Christmas is up to you, but I'm eternally grateful that He's in mine.
Jesus Christ has many names in the Bible, and one of them is "Immanuel" - you'll find it in Matthew 1:23. It means "God with us". God chose to become a man. He chose to live on earth among ordinary people like us, to show us what God is truly like, and how we can live with dignity and love. And ultimately He came to die on the cross to pay for our sins, so we can be reconciled to God, and come to know Him as our friend. That's good news! And being a disciple of Jesus, knowing my sins have been forgiven, receiving the Holy Spirit, experiencing the presence of God, knowing the touch of God, and being confident of eternity with Him, is great joy.
And then a whole crowd of angels joined in, singing praises to God, a bit like your local church at Christmas, celebrating the birth of the Saviour, singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."
There's no better way to spend Christmas than to rejoice that God has come to earth in human form, to revolutionise our lives, to bring health, and peace, and truth and love to anybody who'll listen to the angel.