On this third Sunday of Advent, our family gathered together in the living room for a devoted time of prayer, scripture reading, and the Lord’s supper — just as we have done every Sunday since the pandemic began in March of 2020. This week we read from Luke 2, specifically the story of the shepherds and the angels. Here, the chief angel delivered a message of great hope — an announcement wrapped in glory — to these humble societal outcasts.
“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people,” the angel declared. (Luke 2:10)
If anyone needed good news of great joy, it was them. Shepherds outside of Jerusalem were the equivalent of the economic lower-middle class in society with little to no inheritance to pass on to their children, no chance of upward mobility, limited access to the riches and high-life of the inner city, few educational opportunities, and a system of government and religion that hardly acknowledged them for their contribution to society as caretakers to the sheep of the wealthy and privileged.
Shepherds, in this system, were forgotten and marginalized people in the polarized and complicated politics of the day with little representation. They were, in one sense, “essential workers” that fed the appetites and traditions of the wealthy and privileged.
Yet here, on the night of a miraculous event that would forever shape the world, these simple and humble shepherds were the first to receive the news. The news that a new ruler, a merciful King, and a gracious deliverer from the broken and unjust systems of the world had arrived. The news of the birth of Christ, the Messiah.
Good News for All People?
Although the angel declared this announcement as good news for “all people”, it doesn’t mean the news was received positively by everyone. Luke describes the shepherds responding with eagerness to verify the announcement, followed by their worship of God. Those who heard the story from the shepherds, including Mary and Joseph, were “astonished”. But it was King Herod and the religious elite who responded with fear and sought self-protection. The news of a new King was not to be celebrated but distrusted and claimed as illegitimate; not in preparation for a transfer of power, but a claim for more power; not to relinquish authority to a greater authority, but an attempt to control the masses.
Good news for all people, it turns out, is bad news for the privileged and power hungry.
A Modern Announcement of Good News for All People
Ironically (or perhaps divinely) on this third Sunday of advent in present day 2020, we are humbly celebrating the announcement of another kind of good news: the shipment and delivery of millions of doses of the first vaccines for COVID-19 across the United States, and ultimately what will be to every corner of the world. This announcement has not come from angels on high, but it comes with a similar promise — good news for all people. The pandemic has taken over a million lives and significantly disrupted countless more from around the world. Just as we are entering what many are calling the “darkest days” of the pandemic, we desperately need a glimmer of light and hope.
The story of an investment into the rapid development and distribution of a life-saving vaccine in astonishingly record time will likely go down in history as one of the most revolutionary moments in modern medicine. With unprecedented collaboration and coordination among public and private interests, the end of the pandemic is in sight and hope is on the horizon. To our first-responders, health care workers, caretakers, the elderly, “essential workers”, the poor, and the under-served who lack access to adequate healthcare, this is truly good news. But will it be received as good news by all?
A Posture of Hope and Restoration
No doubt every aspect of the pandemic has been hijacked and distorted for political gain, financial opportunity, misguided agendas, and conspiracy theorists claims to truth. It comes as no surprise that these competing voices in society have already been hard at work criticizing, claiming victory, or spreading deceptive lies as the world waits for the arrival — an advent — of relief from our collective suffering.
However, as Christians, instead of joining the political and ideological tribes and choruses of the day, we are to use this moment to eagerly rediscover our identity and purpose in the Savior child. We are recipients of a glorious and eternal adoption (Eph. 1:5) that invites “all people” into one new humanity (Eph. 2:13-14). We see the world not through the lens of “us and them”, but as connected individuals made in the image of God who are being reconciled to Him and one another (Eph. 1:9-10). We see the modern “advent” of a vaccine as another example of God’s grace, using the collective wisdom, knowledge, and creativity of people like you and I to protect, save, and promote life among “all people”. We mourn the loss of every life everywhere, take seriously the existential threats to our world, work to promote and secure the welfare of all, and remain steadfastly committed to the mission of God and sharing in His “good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
This was, no doubt, the sudden new worldview and posture of the shepherds who had nothing to their name but discovered they had received everything they needed that “first” Christmas night. It was the posture of the visiting wise men from afar who knew through the astrological signs that a new age was beginning, and their wealth and influence was best used in service to the new King. It was the posture of Mary and Joseph who humbly accepted the task of protecting, stewarding, and advocating for the newborn child who would inaugurate a better world for all. It was the posture of those who believed in the miraculous wonders being revealed by God through Jesus that the “status quo” would no longer reign, that the world was being turned upside down, and God’s Kingdom was coming on earth as it is in heaven.
The Three Advents of 2020
This Christmas, like every year, we celebrate the advent of a miraculous birth that occurred two-thousand years ago along with the anticipated advent of Christ’s return that promises a full and complete restoration of the world. In 2020, we celebrate another arrival of sorts, an advent of a “miracle” vaccine. As Christians, we are forced to confront what our posture will be this Christmas. Will we choose to join the tribal chants of division, power, privilege, wealth, and tradition? Or humbly join in God’s mission with “good news that will bring great joy to all people” from our communities to every corner of the world? The power to shape the future and promote the salvation of many is in our hands.