Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – except not for everybody.
There are many people whose Christmas wish is probably for this year to be erased from their memories.
I think of the parents in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, who will be having their first Christmas without a son or daughter who was killed at one of this year’s tragic mass shootings.
Or the victims of the fires in California, who might not even have a home to spend the holiday.
Or those who have lost relatives to the epidemic of drug overdoses or those who are spending Christmas day in a hospital room, at the bedside of a loved one.
And the list goes on.
For these people – and perhaps for you and me as well – the best present this season is not the newest Apple device or fine jewelry. All we want is some hope.
Human beings have always yearned for a reason to hope, to believe things will get better. In other words, we want to hear good news. This was true even 2,000 years ago.
Around the turn of the era, there was a lot of talk about universal peace, a so-called Pax Romana, that would bring order and prosperity to a world which had long been embroiled in chaos and warfare. The man behind this new world order was Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, and people thought he would be the one to make universal peace come true.
In fact, a tablet found in the ancient city of Priene, now modern-day Turkey, captured the zeal people felt for Augustus. The tablet asserted Augustus’ “birthday signaled the beginning of good news for the world,” and the inhabitants of Priene believed this to the point of rearranging their calendar so it would begin on the emperor’s birthday. You can go today to the State Museum of Berlin and see the tablet for yourself.
Yet there was another birthday which wasn’t announced across the empire or inscribed in tablets of stone. The people who first took note of it were actually the unlikeliest audience you could imagine: a group of lowly shepherds and their flocks.
This is how the Gospel of Luke describes the scene:
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. (Luke 2:9-11)
Far away from the emperor’s palace in Rome, in a nondescript village south of Jerusalem, a baby was born who would change the world and split history in half. He would be named Jesus, and though Augustus claimed to be divine and demanded allegiance to his name, the Western world would base its calendar on Jesus’ birth, not the emperor’s.
The Gospel literally means “good news,” though perhaps a better way to describe it would be unbelievable news. God loves you and me so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ so we could have meaning, purpose, and a future with Him. Through his life, death, burial and resurrection, Jesus would make a way for us to have hope for this life and the one to come.
The Apostle Paul, reflecting on the hope that is in Jesus, wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39). That’s the kind of hope Jesus gives to those who are desperate for good news.
You might have missed it because of last weekend’s busy news cycle – the passing of President George W.H. Bush, the G20 summit, NASA’s probe landing in Mars – but Sunday, Dec. 2, was the start of the Advent season. During the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day, millions of Christians around the world gather in hopeful expectation for the birth of Jesus. We remember how the world awaited the arrival of the Messiah promised of old, the one who would bring “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
You may be waiting for Jesus too without even knowing it. Perhaps you’re looking for someone to bring peace to the chaos and confusion of your world, or for someone to bring joy to replace the hurt that won’t go away or to give you the power to live the life you know you were meant to live. To you, Jesus proclaims good news now as he did then.
This Advent could mark a new beginning and a fresh start for you through Jesus. That’s the best news the world has ever heard.