The Angels Sang... The Shepherds Heard far More than Either Understood
A man and his wife wandered wide-eyed through the woods. They had arrived upon this garden-like countryside only a short while ago. It was magnificent! Tall trees cast long shadows against the setting sun. A brook ran along the path they followed. It would soon enter into a river. It's rapids could be heard, but not yet seen. From time to time they would come upon a clearing where low-lying trees could be spotted bearing sun-ripened fruit of every kind.
Suddenly they heard something that turned their blood to ice. For a second they were frozen in place. Gathering his wits the man grabbed his wife’s arm saying, “Quick, let’s hide behind that clump of trees!”
That’s when they heard the voice. It easily drowned out the raging waters of the river below them. “Where are you?” He demanded. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Saddest line in the Bible
Adam coined a description of fallen humanity that has stood for millennia. Larry Crabb, well known Christian counseling authority, speaker and author, observes that in one short sentence Adam confessed to the core human emotion, fear; revealed the core human condition, nakedness; and exhibited the core human strategy, "I hid."
Indeed when you peel away all masks and denials, all compensating obsessions, down at the core of human nature you'll find these three: fear, vulnerability, denial. While they show up in every day life and relationships, it is with regard to the Creator that we are most fearful, most vulnerable and most in denial. Down deep, even atheist, agnostics and new agers (my catchall term for the burgeoning number of post modern syncretistic belief systems) know that they are not all they should be. They have a standard of behavior and fall short of it. They are just as vulnerable as the rest of humankind. If you know you fall short of being your best, fear sets in, humanity's core emotion, according to Crabb. One can't live in raw fear, so we strategize to manage it. Our core strategy is to hide. Of course we don't call it that. It shows up as denial (subjects we avoid at all costs); overcompensation (think of the dollars spent on insurance alone, or the herculean efforts to insure health and physical attractiveness) or aggression (I'll protect myself by hitting first)
That's the normal human condition into which we are all born. Pretty grim. It's not surprising that we look for some kind of derangement to explain the Adam Lanzas of the world. We can't imagine a "normal" person murdering children. Denial! Yes, "evil visited Newtown" but it's in the hearts of every human being. We'll never deal constructively with evil until we recognize it as the "normal" human condition.
Thus the angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds watching their flocks by night. I doubt that either the angels or the shepherds fully comprehended the import of those lines. The angels who are sinless have no way of grasping the concept of a savior. The shepherds were not yet privy to the teachings of Jesus and of his apostles. Surely there was plenty for both parties to get exciting about, but not nearly as much as thrills the hearts of believers today. For the angels announced a reversal of the curse that has dogged humankind since the days of Adam and Eve.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10,11
Three times, first to Zechariah the father of the John, then to Mary and now to the shepherds, the angels reassure terrified hearers with these words, "Fear not!" In fact you'll find similar assurances throughout the Bible. God understands our core emotion. He has set out to address it.
These are not mere words of comfort though. They are a call to experience a deep and permanent peace with Him that rests on what God has done. The angel's "Fear not!" implies "Listen up!" Our core fear is well grounded in history. It's removal must be equally grounded in an historic event.
"To you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"
Vulnerability calls out for protection, salvation. How would God in Christ pull that off? Remember, our core condition is that we are naked before God. We have nothing by which to shield ourselves from his disapproval, anger and judgement. We've tried over the centuries of human history. Rituals, sacrifices, noble deeds intended to demonstrate that we're not as bad as we feel turn out to be no better than the fig leaves with which Adam and Eve covered their nakedness.
Here's a hint at God amazing plan. "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). The skins came from animals who had to give up their own lives. When the angels name the child "Christ, the Lord" they pointed to how Jesus would address our vulnerability before God. The word "Christ" means anointed. Old Testament priests were anointed to offer animal sacrifices. But they were mere shadows of the Anointed One who would come to offer a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He freely and lovingly offered his own life so satisfy the demands of justice. That's why John the Baptist called him "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
There's a figure of speech used often in Scripture to describe what it's like to have Christ as your Savior. You are clothed with Him. For instance, in Revelation we read of a vast multitude gathered from every tribe and nation who are clothed in white robes. We learn that they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-14). Obviously this is a figure of speech harking back to when God first clothed Adam and Eve.
Now those who are clothed with Christ are no longer vulnerable before God's justice, for on the cross the full debt was paid. We still sin, true. But it is forgiven and cleansed on the basis of Christ's death on the cross. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in (read "clothed with") Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
In the city of David
When the shepherds heard the angels' announcement they immediately said to each other, "Let's go check this out?" It never occurred to them to hide, as did Adam and Eve. Their strategy was to investigate, to verify and to act. That's why the angels included data about where they could find Jesus, in the city of David. It was common knowledge in those days that the promised Messiah would be a descendant of David and would be born in David's hometown, Bethlehem.
So it is with all who grasp the gospel. Fear has been dissolved away in the confidence that we are restored to God as his sons and daughters. Instead of fake positive self-talk we boldly trust the Savior. Paul wrote, "I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). That's a long way from hiding behind the nearest tree!
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