From the familiar pages of the gospel of Luke comes the story of the shepherds and the angelic herald announcing the birth of Jesus Christ. From the account written by Luke, it seems as if at the very moment the baby Jesus was being wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger the angels began their encounter with the shepherds.
We cannot know what a few thousand years in heaven feels like, but it seems there was a tremendous urgency and anxiousness in the angels to give their message. For a long time, the Father had promised the Savior’s birth in the meridian of time. For the angels, in the calendar of the earth at least, the time of Christ’s incarnation had been a long time coming and the time was now at hand to show its fulfillment. There was no reason to wait any longer.
And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared unto them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. But the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the way you shall find the babe, he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, and is lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace; good will to men. And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. All they who heard it, wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds (Luke 2:8-18).
The fears of the shepherds, generated by the unexpected and glorious appearance of the angel, were put to rest by the words of the angel. “There is nothing to fear from me. I am bringing the very best of news. It is glad tidings for you and for every person in the world.
What did the angel mean by glad tidings? The story is frequently read and heard, especially around the days of Christmas, but how many people think about what the angels said.
Many translators use the words good tidings or glad tidings instead of writing the word gospel. You may recall that the gospel means good news (the literal translation of the Greek word). When the angels said they had glad tidings to reveal to the shepherds, they were speaking of the event that had just transpired in Bethlehem—Jesus was born.
Sometimes it seems people think the glad tidings of the angels were a promise of a wonderful life, an abundance of all that we need, the love and warmth of family, and the ability to do as we please. Even in the U.S., where the Lord has blessed the land and its people with an abundance of blessings, this idea of good tidings is often not the reality. There are times and circumstances where we do not have all we want or need, life is frequently difficult and painful. People often disappoint and families are sometimes fractured by failure of relationships or wounded by illness and death.
The myth of life as an irresponsible joy ride quickly becomes obvious to any rational person; choices do bring consequences with time.
The angel defined the glad tidings in his declaration to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel said, “For unto you …” This personalizes the nativity and incarnation. God has granted each person a great present of immeasurable worth. The gift is unto you. This phrase also means God has reached down into the midst of humanity and gave himself for each person. The idea of unto you seems to carry the idea of among you or with you. The angel was calling to the shepherds as individuals and also as those hearing the news on behalf of the rest of the people of the world. It was after all, unto all people.
The use of the term, city of David, would immediately draw the ear of the Jewish shepherds to the city of Bethlehem and to the idea of King David and the promises made to Israel through that line. The covenants and promises were now being fulfilled. God has remembered his people. Living under the rule of the tyrant king Herod and the sword of Rome, the idea of a Messiah would indeed have been good news to the shepherds.
When the angel said the newborn baby was, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” the angel had summarized the whole gospel. One commentator wrote that the angel spoke “the gospel in miniature.” The good or glad tidings was that a Savior is born and that Savior is the anointed one of God (Messiah) and the Lord.
This baby was no mere mortal. Many men had been anointed of God for specific tasks, but none of the them had ever been called Lord or God before. Many had acted as a savior to deliver Israel from the oppression of her enemies, but none of them were ever the Savior who is able to save us from our sins.
I was encouraged to consider these things while reading in the Doctrine and Covenants on a subject that was not immediately related to the theme of Christmas. I was studying in Section 76 about the judgment to come upon the sons of perdition and Satan. Suddenly I read these words,
And this is the gospel, the glad tidings which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us, that he came into the world, even Jesus to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved, whom the Father had put into his power, and made by him; who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition, who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him; wherefore he saves all except them; they shall go away into everlasting punishment … (D&C 76:4g-i).
How unexpected were these words of the angel message in the context of this scripture in which the Lord was revealing the judgment to come for the devil, his angels and the sons of perdition. The extremity of the damnation and everlasting punishment of these souls was suddenly contrasted with glad tidings of the gospel message.
The dead shall rise, sins will be washed away and every person is invited to bow before the scepter of the King of Heaven, the Messiah, the Savior who is Christ the Lord! This is the gospel, the glad tidings … that he came into the world, even Jesus to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and cleanse it from all unrighteousness.
To Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon came this message by voice out of the heavens which testified of these things. To the shepherds in the fields at night, the voice of one and then a multitude of the angelic host declared the glad tidings. To Adam, an angel from heaven bore the glad tidings of Jesus Christ to our first parents. King Benjamin also heard the testimony of a heavenly visitor from the throne of grace.
From these, and others, has come the testimony of the gospel of which now we are the heirs. It is a gift of immeasurable worth.
Will we take the gift and hide it under a bushel basket? Or will we let the light of Christ shine high, as if on a candle or lantern to give light in the place where the Lord has appointed us to shine? This is one of the questions of Christmas.
It is also important to see that the angels said it was all for the glory of God.
It was, as if attendant angels had only waited the signal. As, when the sacrifice was laid on the altar, the Temple-music burst forth in three sections, each marked by the blast of the priests’ silver trumpets, as if each Psalm were to be a Tris-Hagion; so, when the Herald-Angel had spoken, a multitude of heaven’s host stood forth to hymn the good tidings he had brought. What they sang was but the reflex of what had been announced. It told in the language of praise the character, the meaning, the result, of what had taken place. Heaven took up the strain, of ‘glory’; earth echoed it as ‘peace’; it fell on the ears and hearts of men as ‘good pleasure’:—
Glory to God in the highest—
And upon earth peace—
Among men good pleasure!
Only once before had the words of Angels’ hymn fallen upon mortal’s ears, when, to Isaiah’s rapt vision, Heaven’s high Temple had opened, and the glory of Jehovah swept its courts, almost breaking down the trembling posts that bore its boundary gates. Now the same glory enwrapt the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plains. Then the Angels’ hymn had heralded the announcement of the Kingdom coming; now that of the King come. Then it had been the Tris-Hagion of prophetic anticipation; now that of Evangelic fulfilment. (Edersheim, Alfred. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 1, pp. 188–189). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.).
We glorify God in hearing and believing the angel message. We glorify God in obeying the angel message. We glorify God in rehearsing, as a witness, the angel message.