Bethlehem had an impressive history. Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried there. David, Israel’s greatest king, was born there. But at this time in its history, Bethlehem was just another little town among many in Judea. That night seemed just like any other night, but events were to happen that glorious night that not only would impact the shepherds, but the whole world.
Those shepherds who spent so much time in the fields by night would undoubtedly have been awed by the wonder of the stars at night. They would have been aware of their own puniness compared with the vast expanse of the night sky. They would have known some of the stars and constellations by name. No doubt, they worshiped the God who in the beginning “made the stars also” (Genesis 1:16, NASB). Some time later, wise men from the east were to be supernaturally guided by a star as they came seeking the King of the Jews.
While the shepherds had often marveled at the glory of the night sky, these night lights were dim compared with the majestic glory of the Lord that they were about to see. All of a sudden the fields were lit with the brightest of white light. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). The Judean fields were transformed by the glory of the Lord from blackness to inexpressible light. Surrounding the shepherds were thousands of angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).
The central figure of these events of the first Christmas is not a shepherd or a wise man or even an angel, but the one who was born that day in Bethlehem, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). This birth is the most glorious birth in human history. We are therefore not surprised that these events were surrounded by glorious light. The living, eternal Word who “was with God, and … was God” (John 1:1) is now becoming flesh and dwelling among us. John, one of His disciples, recorded: “And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God is becoming flesh! The One who is from the beginning, who always existed, who created all things, who was and is God, now at Bethlehem becomes flesh.
In the mystery of the incarnation He is not only truly God, but now truly man. He comes from the infinite distance of the eternal heavens to finite nearness, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger (Luke 2:7). The Creator becomes a creature. From the perfection of Heaven He comes to the depravity of Earth. From God He comes to man. The Kingdom of God comes to Earth. In great love God sends His Son into the world (John 3:16). Eternity invades time in a blaze of glory.
No wonder the glory of the Lord shone around those Judean fields at His glorious birth. God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), and God’s Son “is the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3). Just as the sun radiates rays of light, so the Son of God brilliantly radiates the glory of God. God’s Son not only embodies the glory of God, but also reveals this glory, the total of the divine attributes of God. The Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:16, NASB).
The fourth century Nicene Creed declared that God’s Son is “Light of lights, true God of true God; begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” That is, the Son shares eternally in the divine essence of the Father, and He perfectly reflects the Father’s essence. In Jesus, the glory of God shines “full of grace and truth.”
Although Jesus was truly a man, at His glorious birth He did not cease to be God. In Jesus Christ, the true light of the world comes, and His followers see “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This glory is manifested against the darkness of our sin and rebellion. We are held captive in a prison by sin. We are in a dark pit whose walls are so high that we cannot possibly climb out. We are all in the same darkness. We cannot help one another. But Christmas reminds us that in Jesus the Light of the world has come into our prison. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). When Jesus comes He does not come to judge or to condemn, but to save (John 3:17). Jesus means Savior, Rescuer and Deliverer. This is what His glorious birth is all about: He comes to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
In June 1976, terrorists forced an Air France airbus to land in Entebbe, Uganda. The terrorists quickly demanded that Israel release 53 convicted terrorists. The hijackers held 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages. A 48-hour deadline was set before the hijackers would begin executions. The hostages needed to be rescued. They could not save themselves.
The Israeli government decided to carry out a raid–Operation Entebbe. The Israeli commandos arrived in Uganda after a 2,500-mile flight. In a lightning attack, the soldiers freed the hostages. Within an hour both the rescuers and the rescued were on a plane heading back to Israel. What a rescue!
All of us need to be rescued, delivered and saved from our darkness, captivity and sin. Our Lord Jesus frees us by paying the ransom with His own blood. In that glorious first Christmas, Jesus, the light of God, invades our darkness. He comes to deliver us from our sin and darkness. On the cross He demonstrates His great love for us in saving us from our sins and paying the price for our deliverance and forgiveness.
Do you realize your own darkness, your own inadequacy, your own failures? Just as that glorious light shone around the shepherds, so the light of the glory of God will shine into your dark heart as you repent of your sin and trust Jesus Christ for salvation. Have you seen the glory of the Lord? “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The message of Christmas is that we can know God personally. The shepherds came to Jesus and found the Lamb of God who forgives their sin. The wise men came to Jesus and found the wisdom of God. Will you come from your darkness into His brilliant light? He will dispel your darkness, forgive your sin and give you eternal life. Jesus still says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
By Billy Graham