THE SEASON FOR GOOD NEWS AND GREAT JOY
Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, a season of good-will and good news.
Luke, in his gospel, relates how an angel appeared to shepherds, guarding their sheep under the open sky, with these amazing words, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people" (Lk. 2: 10). The birth of Jesus the Messiah was first announced to humble shepherds, a lowly class in the Jewish class system.
Why shepherds, and not lawyers, teachers of the law or priests? Was it because they were in the vicinity and awake, while others slept? Were they a symbol of watchfulness expected of God's people? From the beginning, God had a special place in His Heart for shepherds. Abel, whose offering pleased the Lord, was a shepherd. Rachel, chosen to be Jacob's wife, was a shepherdess. Moses, the former prince of Egypt, tended his father-in-law's sheep for decades before leading the Israelites out of Egypt. David, before ascending the throne of Israel, fought the lion and the bear to protect his father's sheep. One of the many attributes of God is Shepherd of Israel. The Psalmist Asaph writes, "Give ear, oh shepherd of Israel. You who lead Joseph like a flock" (Psa. 80:1). Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd risks and lays down his life for the sheep. And so the Lord chose shepherds to rejoice at His birth, to be the first to hear the good news.
A festival like Christmas brings great joy, reconciliation and sacrifice. We are moved by O. Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi. A young husband sold his prized pocket watch, gifted by a loving father, to buy a set of combs for his wife's beautiful knee-length hair. She sold her gorgeous hair to buy a gold chain for her husband's watch. They were poor, very much in love and unselfish. And who can forget Scrooge, the central character in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens? After the appearance of the three ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Yet to Come, the miser Scrooge undergoes a transformation. He orders the biggest turkey in the butcher's shop to be sent to the Cratchits for their Christmas dinner. He is an anonymous donor. He also pledges an impressive amount for charity work besides doing other kind deeds. Scrooge embodies the spirit of Christmas after his encounter with the three ghosts.
The Bible records various people who brought good news. The little maid of Naaman's wife informed her mistress that a prophet in Samaria could cure her master of leprosy. Who would believe a young servant's tale of a cure for a disease, incurable at that time? Servants, probably all Israelite slaves, are chosen as bearers of good news. In another remarkable story, four lepers are chosen to take good news to the desperate King of Samaria. Benhadad, King of Syria, had besieged Samaria, looted the granaries, the wine stock and wealth of the kingdom. A severe famine then broke out. In this miserable scenario lived four lepers at the gate of the city. They were also in despair. Entering the Syrian Camp would spell death. They were willing to take the risk. In the first tent they found food, drink, silver, gold and clothes. They entered another tent and found precious goods which they also hid. "Then they said one to another we do not well; this day is a day of good tidings and we hold our peace, if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; now therefore come, that we may go and tell the King's household" (2 Kgs. 7:9).
Believers are like these lepers in many ways. We have tasted God's goodness and the abundant life through Jesus Christ. Should we keep this to ourselves? The lepers did at first. There are still millions dying of spiritual starvation without knowing Christ. Should we not share the good tidings with them that Jesus Christ died so that we may have eternal life and become heirs to all the promises of Abraham? If we remain silent, God will choose someone else to spread the good news. Christmas is the season for this, a time for sharing and caring, but above all, to ring out the Good News of Almighty God who took the form of a helpless babe in a manger.