One of the wonderful aspects of the Christmas season is the celebration of unique and sometimes quirky family “traditions” that make the season special for each one of us. In my family, we had several Christmas television specials that became part of our celebration ritual. One of my favorites was “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I loved the music by Vince Guaraldi that undergirded the animated characters and plot; I loved the fact that Charlie Brown finds the lowliest Christmas tree for the pageant, and I loved Linus’s gentle, yet poignant reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. I will never forget his slow walk to the center of the stage with thumb in mouth and blanket trailing behind him.
To this day, his recitation from the second chapter of Luke still gives me goose bumps. Tears of joy and beauty easily fill my eyes as I hear his small, childlike voice proclaiming the powerful message of God’s good news for the whole world:
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased’” (Luke 2:8-14).
In recalling Linus’s recitation, I’ve been thinking about the message of good news the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that starry night. I think about what a contrast that message is to our prevailing “bad news” messages today. Random violence, terror, and wars continue; thousands dying of Ebola in West Africa; an increasingly hostile political climate; and news of illness and loss of life among friends and family. It is hard not to feel at times that the world is full of bad news.
As I juxtapose the bad news of our world with Luke’s message of good news, I have to wonder if it’s just wishful thinking. In light of our bad news world, what is good about the good news?
Notably, the angel proclaims that salvation has come in one “born this day in the city of David, who is Messiah.” For those poor shepherds, this was indeed good news! Their deliverer had come to rescue them from Roman oppression, and now all of Israel would be restored under the rule of God’s messiah. But this good news would go beyond the boundaries of ethnic Israel to the whole world. The good news of God’s promised Messiah demonstrates God’s favor towards ‘all people.’ “Glory to God in the highest,” the angel host proclaims, “And on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased.” The Greek word for pleased literally means “to think well of, to approve, or to take delight in or pleasure.” So often, perhaps influenced by bad news all around us, many of us struggle with a foreboding sense that God is angry with us, smoldering with rage and wrath against us. But the angels declare the exact opposite—and this is indeed, good news! God sends Jesus, the Messiah, out of a sense of delight and pleasure with his creation. The Messiah coming as one of us, Immanuel, God with us is the greatest good news we could ever hope to receive. Jesus says in John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only, begotten son; that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
In the face of the bad news of our world and in our lives, the good news of God should resound in our hearts and minds as we enter the Christmas season: God is with us, God is pleased with us, and God loves us! Jesus inaugurates the reign of good news, his shalom, even in the face of bad news. All are invited to share in this good news. The good news of God’s reign exists even in the midst of crisis. The good news of God’s reign offers hope that Immanuel has arrived in Jesus. And even when the news is overwhelmingly bad, the promise resounds: “In the world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is indeed good news.
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.