And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
(Luke 2:8–12 NIV)
Recently Bernice and I finished watching The Umbrella Academy (creative, uneven, zany, sad, with a great sound track). It is a Netflix series where all the episodes are part of one long story. In programmes like this, it is not helpful to start with episode 3, for example. Without watching episodes 1 and 2 you will not be able to understand the episode. Indeed, you may even misunderstand it without the proper context. Which may explain the reason for some of us finding it difficult to understand why the angels were so over the top when they announced the coming of Jesus.
For all people?
But the coming of Christ is at least episode 4 in the story of humankind. It only makes sense if we understand the earlier episodes.
Episode 1: God creates humankind and blesses them overwhelmingly
Episode 2: Humankind rejects the rightful, loving kingship of God and loses their blessings
Episode 3: God, in His grace, doesn’t leave humankind in their predicament. He promises to send a Messiah/Suffering Servant to make things right again. Indeed, He promises to step into human history Himself to make things right.
Then, like a winter break, we had to wait for the continuation of the story. Boy, did we have to wait for a long time. Some of the messianic prophecies in Isaiah for example were probably uttered about 800 years before Christ finally came. In comparison, episode 3 of Crisis on Infinite Earths aired on Dec 10th and you have to wait till (horrors!) Jan 14th for the next episode.
I can imagine the angels, and all creation in the know, holding their breaths. Now, finally, the Messiah comes! Time to exhale! Time for over-the-top joy!!! There is no way we can understand the joy of Christmas without understanding the back story. God came through! God kept His Word! The Messiah has come to make things right again! It’s going to be OK! We can sing with gusto:
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found
(“Joy to the World”, Isaac Watts, 1719)
But all good stories have a twist. The coming of Jesus was only episode 4. There were other subsequent episodes:
Episode 5: The Life and Teaching of Jesus
Episode 6: The Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ
Episode 7: The Pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the Witness of the Church
Episode 8: Christ Returns to Finally Make All Things New
So, even as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, we realise we are only in episode 7. We need to remember this as we look out at a world that is still dark and full of pain. Episode 6 was the key episode. God did the heavy lifting of reversing the effects of sin. But we still await the final episode.
We have every right to be joyful at Christmas. God kept His word! The Messiah came! So we know He will come again! Let’s remind each other to hang in there and to be faithful to witness to Him through word and deed. We press on because we know how this story ends. (There may even be a second season with a new heaven and a new earth.)