What do those words mean to you? “Good tidings of great joy.” When I was a child, those words meant something very simple to me: I had to memorize them for school. I attended a small, Christian school growing up and we had Bible memorization every year. And without fail, every year around Christmas, we had to memorize the first 20 verses of Luke chapter 2.
I honestly have no memory of a time when I didn’t have those verses committed to memory. I’m a little rusty these days, as I haven’t had to recite them to a room full of classmates since 1995, but if pressed, I could probably get most of it right. This isn’t some sort of humble brag. I take no credit for knowing these verses. Years of required memorization did their work well.
So, in years past, “good tidings of great joy” meant a requirement of some sort. Over time, the meaning has evolved into something more. Something better, though I will forever be thankful for my school’s emphasis on Scripture memorization.
Do we take the Christmas story for granted?
I have to admit that over the years, the words of Luke 2 have become so familiar that I lose focus of exactly what is being said. I overlook the grandeur, the majesty, and the awe of the Christmas story. I overlook the truth of those “good tidings of great joy” as well.
I love Christmas. I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating. I love the sounds, the smells, the tastes, and the feels of Christmas. It’s the whole package that does it for me. And right now, sitting in my mostly warm and cozy home while it’s 0 degrees outside, the Christmas spirit is all around. I look out my window and there is snow covering the ground as far as I can see. That “feels” Christmasy to me. We’ve had Christmas music playing pretty much around the clock for the last month. Definitely Christmas time. There is a beautifully decorated Christmas tree sitting a few feet in front of me with presents all around it. Christmas for sure.
These are all great things and they are part of what makes this time of year so special to so many people. But they are not Christmas. Yes, they can serve as reminders of the true meaning of Christmas but that’s the most they will ever be. Too often, though, they have become the most important elements of my Christmas celebrations. These things are fun and enjoyable, but they did not inspire the angels to announce good tidings of great joy.
Reminders are good.
I forget very easily. Maybe it would be better to say I choose forgetfulness too often. I know the Christmas story so well that it can fade into the background. It joins all the other things – the trees, the presents, the music, the snow – and it becomes just one more element in my Christmas festivities.
How is it possible that I can turn the greatest story ever told into one small part of Christmas? The story of how God became flesh. The story of the birth of the one who would provide salvation for the world. How do I let that story get wrapped up with all the other stuff? How do I allow Christmas trees, cookies, and my favorite Christmas songs to find equal footing with the birth of Jesus?
Easy. I forget. I allow myself to become desensitized to the overwhelming wonder of the true Christmas story. It is so ingrained in my heart that I overlook the sheer awesomeness of it all. And I mean awesomeness in the most literal sense. Christmas is in part the story of the Creator of the universe humbling Himself and taking on the form of a servant. Paul said it of Jesus best in Philippians:
Who, being in very nature God,Philippians 2:6-8
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Love comes to earth.
Christmas is the story of the very Being who defines love coming to earth to die. All to save Adam’s wretched and sinful race. Christmas exists as Jesus’ human entry point into the plan of redemption. Jesus came to die. That was His mission. It was the only way to redeem mankind. Christ’s body was prepared for Him1 to be a sacrifice, because that is what was required to fulfill the will of God. As Greg Koukl puts it in The Story of Reality: “This is why Jesus came to earth. God’s Son surrendered his sinless human self to be the future unblemished offering to perfectly and completely save sinners.”
The good tidings of great joy are only good and can only bring us joy if we humbly and gratefully accept them for what they truly are. They are not simply a message of peace, though they did announce the birth of the Prince of Peace. They are not only a message of love, though “God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son.” The good tidings of great joy we read about in Luke are the very best news we could ever receive because they are the story of salvation.
Jesus was born to die. He was the only one who could do it. Adam’s sin debt had to be paid by man, but man was unable to pay. Only someone sinless and spotless could pay the price. So, God become man. Jesus, “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”2 That’s the Christmas story. Jesus took on flesh to do the very thing we needed most but could not do ourselves. If there have ever been “good tidings of great joy”, this is it.
If you are like me, you know these things. But reminders are good. As we enter the final days of this Christmas season, may we remember the true meaning of “the good tidings of great joy” that were delivered on that first Christmas night.
May we never forget that God demonstrated His great love toward us by sending His Son on that first Christmas as a body prepared for Sacrifice. For all sinners. For you and me. Jesus didn’t come to make us feel Christmasy, though nothing else should inspire a more celebratory mood. He didn’t come to make us happy, though His saving work fills us with unspeakable joy. He came to die to save our sinful and wicked souls. “Good tidings of great joy” means so much more when we remember this truth.
Merry Christmas from Rambling Ever On!