Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Good News for All People" (Luke 2:1-20)


I’ve got some “good news”. Well, some might say back to me, ‘good for you, so what, what difference does that make to me’!

But this is “good news (of great joy) for all people”! That’s what the angel said to the shepherds (to quell their particular fears). The birth of Jesus is such very good news! How can the message of Christmas be widely communicated as good news today?

If this particular “good news” is really for all people, it truly is a big deal, and it should be shouted from the mountain tops. How might we communicate the “good news” with the impact of this angel (in the Luke 2 narrative verse 10f)?

There is certain “good news” that might be relevant to a small group of people – a 21st birthday or engagement. Then there is certain “good news” that relates to a bigger number – Australia winning a test match or a gold medal. And then there is “good news” that applies to whole nations, in terms of a growing economy or a move to democracy. But here is “good news” for all people!! No one should be left out!

If there seems LESS space these days to have discussions about Jesus, is there any point in getting defensive about this? It does NO good to defend God – as if it was in any way compulsory to believe (God doesn’t even go that way, rather giving everyone freewill to accept or reject). We are simply called upon to gently and humbly present a case for God … that makes sense, that makes a difference, that touches hearts and changes lives, that can actually be demonstrated with credibility – that can be received as “good news”.

Christmas time seems to be a natural season to be interacting with people over issues of beliefs and faith. How do we go about this? After all, the shepherds of old were just minding their own business that day, tending to their sheep – just like so many people are doing today … just going about their business. But nonetheless, there was a message coming for those shepherds (that was going to change their lives forever).

Good News for the Shepherds

Back then, there was an angelic vision given to a pack of shepherds; which was glorious, although also a bit scary – maybe we just say it was “awesome”. A voice said, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day … a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (2:10). This was the fulfilment of the words of many an Israelite prophecy; God would ultimately respond in a very personal way to the desperate state of human life.

The shepherds bought right into this quite unreservedly: “Let us go now to Bethlehem …” (2:15). These shepherds were also expectant and confident: “Let us go now … and see this thing that has taken place” (2:15). [After meeting with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, they later went on to talk all this up quite publicly (2:18), and started worshipping God expansively (2:20).] Why did the shepherds respond like this … so quickly and wholeheartedly?

Was it because this news interacted well with where they were at in life? Was it because they were just so pleased that such lowly shepherds had been given the privilege of such a sound and light show! This would have been unexpected – didn’t everything important happen in the temple or the synagogue?! But this was out in the fields! And in some minds, shepherds may have been one of the least likely groups to receive a revelation like this – because of their constant care of the sheep, they didn’t get to the synagogue much. Shepherds were certainly out of the mainstream, and not generally well-regarded!

What else could have connected well with the shepherds? The promise of “joy”, perhaps to people only used to the mundane. Perhaps the notion of rescue coming through a Saviour, which connected to how they felt about the issues in their lives. Or could it have been the mention of a Messiah, and the grand effect this may come to have generally on their community.

There seems to be a sense of humble privilege in the shepherd’s response. [Does this mean we need to model a sense of humble privilege … that we have been so loved by God, and so deeply touched!]

How do we need to communicate to see such unreserved and expectant responses? After all, this “good news” is for … “all people”. We regret that other people don’t see Christmas the way we do. Decorations, shopping, parties, Santa, presents, family feasts, hangovers … that’s it! Where does the responsibility lie? The council doesn’t want to have a prayer that includes God anymore. Sometimes the Christian message doesn’t seem to be welcome. Often we sense that Jesus has been crowded out, just like when there was no room for him (2:7), except out the back with the animals. Where does the responsibility lie? What should we do … criticise and condemn, or speak with gentleness and humility and simply love people? Can we just say that if you don’t feel you can pray for yourself, we will pray for you! In what ways shall the good news be heard?

Lights and Sirens

Maybe the good news needs to be (first) seen – like in that sound and light show that the shepherds got … though perhaps not so mystical – more down to earth! Maybe the good news needs to be lived out … lives that exhibit hope, love, joy and peace – qualities straight from the life of Jesus.

Part of this effort might be an examination of our lives, and intentionally discarding those things that are not life-giving to ourselves or others. Such things might be called ‘bad news’. We might need to make more room for the “good news” ourselves. What if we considered everything we did in a day was part of God’s agenda!? What then wouldn’t seem to fit well (with God’s agenda)?? Part of this might be an appreciation that following Jesus effects every part of our lives, and how we view everything that is happening around us … in community life, politics, economics, climate, music, film, fashion, sport, culture, social media, health and welfare. Part of this might involve very significant and public contributions to the great causes of our time – participating in the healing of the world and the renewing of creation – feeding the hungry, caring for the lonely, supporting the refugee. Yes, part of this would be modelling values that are clearly aligned with Jesus. Lights and sirens!

Who is God calling us to befriend, spend time with, to listen to, or care for? How should our time be invested? Where should we be? How do we use our resources? Is the spotlight of Gospel interest shining on us (or not)? This is not just about dialogue, but also about deep engagement with people! We can engage with others in issues that are important to them, while perhaps having our own distinct and biblically related perspective … that eventually we might be able to share about. We can build trust and the space to share our journey.

Is there someone we should reconcile with? Can we model forgiveness sufficiently well that others might sense a pathway to freedom? Does coming to experience the peace of God in our lives, mean that we have now become an active peace-maker?! Knowing Jesus must make a difference. We know that when the cheating tax-collector Zacchaeus met Jesus, there was an immediate transformation. Zacchaeus quickly tried to make things right, and became a generous donor to the poor (Luke 19).

Can God’s glory and splendour, that was so highlighted by the angel and the multitude, actually be glimpsed in the work of Jesus operating through us?!

What about our worship? Can it be contagious; because it is so sincere, faith-filled, and life-enriching? What about our gatherings? Can they really touch the deepest parts of life? Can we really help each other to grow? Are we truly encouraging? If we can say ‘yes’ to these questions, then surely this would reveal the “good news”? What about our church generally? Is this an environment in which people can flourish? There are lots of questions to ask.

Angels of Good News

Let us put ourselves in the position of this ‘angel’ sharing with the shepherds that day. If we are ‘angels’ with the message of “good news”, who will be the shepherds that respond? Won’t these potentially be the people that we are normally in contact with through the course of a week! We may, though, have to pray for special openings … spaces in the conversation or some uninterrupted times of sharing. We shouldn’t feel pressured – just follow the natural flow of life: God’s person in God’s place in God’s timing. This is modelled on Jesus himself entering into the human environment, sharing its suffering, bringing light into the darkness, offering a good measure of friendship. Where is Jesus leading us to be?

We might need to first connect the “good news” to the ‘bad news’? As we have said, the shepherds were not well-regarded, and some thought them to be outcasts; yet they heard that this remarkable “good news” was for everyone. Our “good news” may have to first be connected to other people’s need, to people’s pain, or at least to the ways in which they are currently viewing life. This could only really be achieved relationally – where we get to know someone well enough to hear about their journey, begin to understand their struggle, and listen to what they sense is missing in their life. We can talk about the things that others want to talk about, but at the same time be ready to bring some new perspectives into the conversation.

Then, we may be able to connect up the ways in which Jesus has made (and is still making) a difference in our life. This personal approach is preferable to any pre-packaged or set presentation, irrespective of who we are sharing with. It is good for us to regularly reflect on (and rehearse telling the story) of what God is bringing to our lives. Then, our acceptance of Jesus into our own complicated lives of need and pain may be encountered as relevant and helpful to others. We will surely then give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15), in a gentle and respectful way! We pray that such people come to say, “Glory to God in the highest”, as they accept Jesus (and his offer of salvation) for themselves.

God is building wisdom into us as we continue to reflect on our life experiences and where God has been within them. But there will still be times when we will have to send out a quick prayer for help … to deal with certain tricky circumstances, and to somehow respond in the most helpful (and redemptive) way possible.

What do we need to be an ‘angel’ bearing “good news”?? We have already used certain crucial words: humble, credible, gentle and respectful. We also need: a listening ear, a hospitable spirit, a caring openness, a sincere interest in others. We need also to be well tuned into God (dismantling disruptions), and be providing spaces of trust and safety. Maybe we could envision Jesus sitting beside us, as we relate the benefits of having him as our best friend.

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