Every time Christmas nears, the scene of Linus reciting from Luke 2 comes to mind. Charlie Brown is frustrated with a meaning of Christmas wrapped up in flashy decorations, showy pagents and greedy consumerism. He knows there is something else, something more, something special, but he can’t quite put it all together. Linus takes center stage and answers Charlie Brown’s question – Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? – with a story.
An angel appears and speaks (Luke 2:8-14):
“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (NRSV).
When we read this, we may not immediately jump for joy. We miss so much that is packed into this announcement because of the distance between our moment in time and the ancient world of those shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem. Reading other translations and paraphrases might help:
“Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority!” (The Voice)
“Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.” (The Passion Translation)
“Don’t be afraid, because I am here announcing to you Good News that will bring great joy to all the people. This very day, in the town of David, there was born for you a Deliverer who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Complete Jewish Bible)
Somehow the announcement of Jesus’ birth is good news that changes everything. The good news I first heard as a teenager can be summarized like this: Jesus saves. Believing “Jesus is Savior” was supposed to change my life. It was supposed to change everything. Looking back over the years, however, I resonate a bit with Charlie Brown. All the window dressings of the Christian life left me feeling like there must be something else, something more, because though the Christians I knew said we were participating in something special, I couldn’t quite see how it fit together. Many times throughout my journey, I’ve been exasperated and cried out, “Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what this is all about?” It just seemed we were all actors in a play that might have been produced well, but that was telling the wrong story.
Throughout my 20s and 30s I’ve been exploring the question: What is this story that is supposed to be such good news?
Do not be afraid, because your story of exile and oppression has turned a page, and this chapter is titled, Promised One. The good news you have been desperate to hear, that salvation, liberation, rescue, deliverance has come, is breaking into this drama right now.
We need to ask some questions in order to understand this story. When this announcement was heard, what was the plot of the chapter in which the hearers lived? What was happening? What were they waiting and longing for? In other words, from what did they need to be rescued? Also, for what would they be liberated? Salvation from what and for what? Jesus’ birth announcement in Luke is one of four beginnings to the story. Let’s turn to the other three gospels to see how those writers set the stage for this good news.
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’’” (Mark 1:1-3).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
Matthew, Mark and Luke use the language of “good news.” John is doing something a bit different, but we’ll get to that in the another blog post. For now, notice the language connected to good news: the kingdom of God is announced (that’s good news) and is demonstrated through healing; Isaiah’s vision of God delivering the people from exile (also good news) is connected; this story includes everyone.
We are in the first week of Advent (began Sunday, December 1), a season that begins the church year. This season is one of expectant longing that leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. In the next post, we’ll dig into the good news story more and, hopefully, get a clearer picture of what this is all about and how it is core to the work I presented at the TRP Conference in my workshop, “Reframing the Gospel: How LGBTQ Inclusion is Central to Jesus’ Kingdom Vision.” In the meantime, think about how you might answer some of the questions I posed regarding the announcement of good news.