Until recently, a birth announcement is not something I have thought a lot about. To this former journalist, a birth announcement was simply a brief blurb in the local newspaper that reported the name of a new birth, where the child was born, and the names of the child’s parents.
As Abbi and I prepare to welcome our first child in a few weeks, I have come to appreciate the purpose of a birth announcement. The announcement tells the world – or at least our friends and family – that a child has been born. It is a joyous moment worthy of announcement.
Each family will make the announcement in their own ways. You could use a phone tree and spread the message to family and friends. It could be made through the use of a creative video or an online posting. Or you could do what I’m probably susceptible of doing and run through the halls of the hospital announcing the child’s birth much like George Bailey running through the streets of Bedfood Falls saying “Merry Christmas” in It’s a Wonderful Life.
In a way, our announcements of the birth of our children is much like the announcements made in the Roman Empire following a special birth. These special births were those involving the birth of a child who would eventually become an emperor. In those days, Roman Empire believed that the emperor was a god. The emperor was seen as the agent of peace and the savior of the people. When a would-be emperor was born, perhaps even in the case of Caesar Augustus, orators and poets would make an announcement to the people. This child, they would say, would be the one who would bring “peace and prosperity” to the entire Roman Empire.
This Roman announcement of a savior is on Luke’s mind as he writes about a birth that took place in Bethlehem. Luke, who is writing to a Roman audience, serves as an orator who announces that a special birth has taken place. It’s not a birth that many would expect to be celebrated. The parents had been rejected by their family and sent to a stable as the mother prepared to give birth. They had no money. They were not famous. They were not people who you might suspect would be worthy of someone making an announcement about.
Yet, Luke finds this couple – Mary and Joseph – and their new child worthy of a grand announcement. Luke rightfully believes that an important birth had taken place in this lowly stable. It was a birth that was not just important for the Romans, but all people and for all time. Luke makes the announcement and says to all who would hear that a savior had been born. Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, had been born. It is good news for all people and Luke tells the entire world about this grand birth.
The announcement was not given to the religious or political leaders. Instead, Luke gives the announcement to a group of people who would hear the message of a true savior being born. The announcement that Jesus had been born came not to the world’s elite, but to a lowly and humble group of shepherds. The significance of the announcement given to the Shepherds and how they responded to the message are realities we are called to live into this Christmas Eve.
Shepherds were not a group that would have been expected to receive such an announcement. They were a despised class. They were ignored and considered as less-than by others. Shepherds were so disrespected that their testimony was considered unreliable. On this night as they were watching their sheep in fields near Bethlehem, these lowly individuals would be met by the angels and given an announcement that the entire world had been anticipating. The shepherds were the first to hear that Jesus had been born.
The angel’s appearance startled the shepherds. Perhaps the shepherds had bought into the message they had heard from others. As one commentator suggested, they might have believed that it was impossible for God to use them. The angel calms them in the midst of their sense of fright or shock and tells them the good news. There was good news to announce, because the prophesies of the Old Testament that looked out for the Messiah’s entrance into the world had been fulfilled. The long-awaited Messiah, the one who bring hope and the promises of God to fruition, had been realized. A savior, Jesus, had been born. As the angels state, this is good news for all people. A statement that is echoed in the song that the angelic chorus sings in praise to God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” the angels sing, “and peace on earth to those whom God is pleased.”
Think about what they angels told the shepherds. First, they tell them that a savior had been born. A savior who truly would save the people from their sin and disobedience. It wasn’t the Roman Empire who was the Savior God, but this child. The One who was wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger would grow to be the Savior who would redeem all of humanity and creation. This child, the angels tell the shepherds and us, would be not just the Savior, but also the Lord of Lords. For Jesus would not only redeem us of our acts of disobedience, but would show us the way to true devotion to the Father by a life of servanthood and obedience. The angels made a grand announcement that the people’s Savior and Lord their God and King had come. At Christmas, Christ the Lord came and dwelt among us.
It is a message sent not to the powerful, but to a lowly group of shepherds. This has significance for us. The message of the Lord’s birth wasn’t for a select few, but was for all people. Out of the Father’s love for all people, God sent us the greatest gift of a son who would show us the way of true devotion and a life lived for the Father. Though they ignored by the society, the shepherds were loved by God and welcomed by the Lord. Jesus’ birth was as much for them as it was for anyone else, because it showed how God welcomes the lowly, the outcast, and forgotten and takes on their burdens. Jesus is to be the Lord of all and not a few.
How would the shepherds react to the angel’s message? What were they do with this announcement? They reflected upon what was told to them and made a choice. They said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” It is an act of faith and trust that the shepherds claim the announcement and proceed to go and meet Christ. They went to where Jesus was and worshiped the Lord. This group of people who no one thought much about, became the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth, the first to respond to the Lord’s birth, and the first to worship the Lord in his presence. Their response to Jesus’ birth was living out the joy, hope, peace, and love of the Lord by going to where Christ was and giving praise to God for the Lord’s birth.
What about us? How will we respond to the announcement of the Lord’s birth? Each of us have heard the announcement that Jesus has been born. This is good news for us. How will respond to this good news? Will we say, “That’s nice. Now, where is my Christmas present?,” and forget the announcement by morning. Will we be like the shepherds and meet Christ where he is at. Truly, the presence of Christ, the Son of God, is always with us. Will we go, like the shepherds, and meet Christ and find him in our lives?
The message of Christmas is a grand announcement. A savior has been born! Your savior, the one who has redeemed you of your sin and calls you to live in deep devotion to the Father’s desires has come! An announcement requires a response. What’s yours?