The most overlooked part of the Christmas story

“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people! For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you: you will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

In telling and retelling the story of the shepherds and the angels in the fields outside Bethlehem, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important.

We picture those humble, working-class shepherds…given the most boring assignment in the world, to spend the night watching sheep who are not going to be doing anything or going anywhere anyway…. when suddenly the Angel of the Lord materializes, hanging in the sky out in front of them, and tells them–what else?–to “Fear not!” We join the shepherds in awe of the skyful of angels singing the excelsis deo, and then we run with them into Bethlehem as they flit from stable to stable in search of the one containing a young family with a newborn baby.  They worship, then depart to spread the news.

Does anyone ever stop to reflect seriously on what the angel said to the shepherds in that opening statement?

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people.”

GOOD NEWS–that is “the gospel.” The first gospel preacher, if you will, was an angel.

I’ve told here how that I have built an entire sermon around two questions: 1) Why was the message of Christ good news? and 2) If it was so good, why aren’t people beating our doors down to get in on it.  (On my blog, type in Romans 1:16 and you’ll find it.)

GREAT JOY–that is the result of the gospel. As people come to know the Savior, the result is great happiness and fullness of life.

We are well aware that people rush headlong into the world looking for joy and its cousins “happiness” and “fulfilment.” But these are not to be found by seeking them. Rather, by doing our duty, centering our lives on the Lord and serving Him, only then do we find true lasting joy.  Joy is a byproduct of faithfulness.

ALL PEOPLE–this is the intended recipient of this news. True, it came to the Jews first, in a Jewish town, and the news was given to Jewish shepherds. But that’s only how it arrived. From there, it exploded throughout the world.

The early church had to come to grips with this matter and settle once and for all whether the gospel of Jesus Christ was intended for everyone or just the select few who would be willing to live as Jews. They got it right, give them credit. (Acts chapter 15 records the Jerusalem council where this decision was made.)

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”


Finally, the promise was fulfilled! How fatigued the people must have become as they heard their leaders read those Old Testament prophets give well-known promises of a Messiah, born of a Virgin, the Son of David, the Saviour of the world. And now, at last–here it was.

When Jesus began preaching, He reiterated that same time element. “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” The time of delay and waiting is behind us. Now is the time.

Many people tell me they intend to come to Jesus, only not now. Asked to repent and believe the gospel, they reply, “I plan to do that. One of these days. But not today.”

“One of these days” is a lot of things–a scam out of hell, a self-delusion factor, and the cause so many will end up in hell.  “One of these days” is rebellion against God. “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” “Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation.”


Jerusalem was called David’s city also, but first it was Bethlehem, that ancient town of his forefathers. How fitting that the One who would call Himself “The Bread of Life” and “the Living Bread” (see John 6) would be born in a town whose name means “House of Bread.”


A Savior.  One who saves. A rescuer. A first-responder. One who risks life to save others.

We used to see signs everywhere that proclaimed “Jesus Saves,” but rarely do any longer. I suspect the phrase grew trite and for many suggested a one-dimensional Christianity (“Just get ’em saved and don’t worry about the rest”), something far removed from the intent and teachings of the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, mankind still needs a Savior, and the good news from Heaven is that we have One, His name is Jesus, and there is no other.

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”


A sign points to something important. John the Baptist identified himself in this way, as one pointing to the coming Messiah.  In this case, the angel told the shepherds there were two things to look for in Bethlehem that would enable them to identify the Savior….


Modern translations say “baby wraps” or “cloths.”  But can we keep “swaddling clothes”? These would be the strips of cloth with which newborn babies are often bound even today. Perhaps the idea is to simulate the security and warmth they knew in the womb. In any case, that’s what Baby Jesus would be wearing.

These cloths are a reminder of His humanity.


The manger–a feed trough–is a sign of His humility. Born in a stable, no doubt, although the stable is never mentioned, just the feed trough.

Jesus later said foxes have holes and birds have nests, but He had nowhere to lay His head. We recall what John said in the first chapter of his gospel, “He came unto His own and HIs own received Him not.”

Those who preach a prosperity gospel will tell you Jesus owned a house and had servants and such. They are either intentionally misrepresenting the plain teaching of Scripture or are seriously deceived. Not so. He came poor and lived poor and died poor.  He was born in a borrowed stable and in death, laid in a borrowed tomb..


–“Did you rehearse that speech many times before delivering it to the tiny audience in the field outside Bethlehem? Or was it spontaneous?”

–“Had you shaken your head in disgust over the centuries, Gabriel, as you watched mankind abusing and hurting one another, trying to self-destruct? And did you think, ‘Hurry up, Lord. These people need a Savior desperately’?”

–“And what are your thoughts now, some two millennia after that night? Are you still disgusted? Are you hopeful? Or have you resigned yourself that what’s going to happen will happen, since after all, the Father has done all that needs to be done and the rest is up to us?”

–“Are you getting ready now to blow your horn and put an end to what has been called ‘the human experiment’? Or will it be a while longer?”

–“Thank you for your part, Gabriel, in bringing us this wonderful news of an incredible Savior. These days, we who are His redeemed are God’s messengers, carrying the news of the Savior–of His coming, His teachings, His death, burial and resurrection–far and wide.”

–“It’s the best message in the world, and we love to declare it.  I hope we’ll do as well as you did.”

The Apostle Paul said, “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battlel?”

Help us to get it right, Lord.

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