Here’s a copy of the talk I gave at our 14-18 year olds alternative carol service on Sunday evening:
Well, it’s the last Uncover of the year, we’ve come together to worship God. We have sung carols and prayed and read the Bible and now we come to the sermon.
What I want to do then is to focus on Luke 2:10
‘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.”’
This is part of the story of the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. After Jesus is born in Bethlehem and placed in the manger by his mother Mary, Luke switches attention to the hills around Bethlehem and to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks of sheep at night. An angel, a supernatural messenger from heaven, appears to them and makes this announcement: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Now you will see that the verse naturally divides into three: “Do not be afraid/I bring you good news of great joy/that will be for all the people.”
Therefore I want to say three things to you this morning.
God is mighty & powerful but we do not need to be afraid
The very first thing the angel says is “Do not be afraid”. This, you will discover if you look, is a typical phrase to be found in the mouth of an angel. Why does he say what he says? Well, the fact is that the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of this angel. It was undoubtedly a frightening thing to witness his appearance.
Sometimes we get afraid when we think of the greatness of God and his eternity or of our own mortality. Part of the Christmas message is that we should not be afraid. Sometimes the world inadvertently stumbles on this truth and understands a little of it.
If you know the lyrics of the Band Aid single “Do they know it’s Christmas?” often heard at this time of the year, you may remember that it starts in a rather odd way. The first line is a rather predictable “It’s Christmastime” but then, rather unexpectedly there is the angel’s line “there’s no need to be afraid”.
Fear is an odd word to associate with Christmas, and yet for so many people that is the case sadly. The Band Aid single was originally written to highlight Africa. This winter once again many people are struggling with famine and starvation, currently over 35,000 people a day die of treatable illnesses such as malnourishment.
Surely no-one in Britain associates Christmas with fear? But Christmas is a time when money is a worry, for many people sadly it is a time when they spend lots to keep up with the Jones’ and then spend so much of the year trying to pay it off. Also for those who live with alcoholics, drug addicts, and broken families Christmas can be a nerve wracking time trying to make everything feel normal when it is anything but normal.
So further on in the song we are encouraged to “say a prayer” to “pray for the other ones” the reasoning being that for them, unlike for us, “at Christmastime it’s hard”. And so we are exhorted when we’re having fun to remember that there is:
“a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear. Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears. And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.”
The way to deal with fear is not simply to “spread a smile of joy” and “throw your arms around the world” but to look above for some comfort and some encouragement. Yes, it is Christmas time and there is no need to be afraid – but not because we live in the UK and are comparatively wealthy, living in a world of plenty when compared with the wider world. It is because those charged with doing us good say “Don’t be afraid” just as God himself calls on us not to fear.
God is mighty and he does work powerfully but we do not need to be afraid if we listen to the message in this verse we are focussing on: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
We have good news to share that brings great joy.
The angel goes on then “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .” There is an argument here. Why should the shepherds not be afraid and why should I not be afraid either, this Christmas time? The Band Aid idea is that “at Christmastime we let in light and we banish shade” which is a good metaphor but puts the emphasis on what we can do. “In our world of plenty” they say “we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.” But the good news of Christmastime is not really to do with brotherly love or the idea that we can all help each other, although these are great concepts.
Rather, the angel says “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .” Here is good news and it will make you really, really joyful. But what was that good news? We know don’t we. It was the news that a baby had been born in Bethlehem. Now the birth of a baby is always good news but this was a very special baby, of course, who had been born. This was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ himself – the one who would grow up to be the Saviour of the World. This is good news and it should fill us with joy – Good news from heaven not from earth.
When we turn on the news on the radio or television we expect to hear bad news and it usually is bad news. I tried this morning – flooding around the UK, distrust of the police over Plebgate, the CPS examining the death of the nurse who took the hoax call, Syria building chemical weapons, a Pakistani mob beating to death a Muslim accused of blasphemy, the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings.
Sometimes there is so much bad news that it can make us very depressed. I found an article online headed “How to cope with so much bad news in the world”. The article begins:
“These days there seems to be a lot of bad news in the world. Many people are struggling economically. Some people are even losing their homes. The winter weather has been treacherous in spots. Wars are still raging in numerous locations all over the globe. So what can you do to fight off depression during these difficult times?”
Three basic answers are given:
- Listen out for the good news stories that are there too
- Switch the radio and TV off
- Especially avoid stories that you find very upsetting.
Again, this may be of use for some people but it isn’t that helpful really. Rather, we need to see all the bad news in the context of this wonderful good news that Jesus Christ has come. God has sent his one and only Son into the world to save the world through him.
This is our focus this evening then – it’s on good news, the good news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who can save us from our sins and from death. What greater good news could there be? What joy it is, what great joy, to know that God so loved this world that he gave his one and only son into the world to save us.
According to the news this morning the Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been preaching about the fact that children are growing up too fast in our society and that may be so but it is not the message he should be preaching for Christmas Day is it? No we say “Do not be afraid here is good news of great joy” – sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem!
This good news of great joy is for everyone who will hear
The whole sentence spoken by the angel is this: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” That last phrase is very significant. He doesn’t say “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of you shepherds” or “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the Jews.” No, he says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” This is good news of great joy for everyone.
That means good news for all of us present this evening. You can know real joy and solid good news if you know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him. Try and meditate it on this today – it’s Christmas time – no need to be afraid. Why? Not because we have plenty to eat and lots of family and friends around us but because Jesus has come into the world to save us!
It also means good news for all those who are not present this evening. They too can know real joy and solid good news if they know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him. The question for us is how we are going to get that message out in the year to come. There is no need to be afraid because Christ Jesus has come into the world to save people. Let’s begin with our own family and friends and see what we can do.
The shepherds we read in verses 17-18, spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. We also ought to spread the Word and as we do others will be amazed and turn to Christ.