"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord"
- Luke 2:11There are several things about the birth of Christ that strike the modern reader as peculiar. One is the fact that He was born in extremely humble circumstances, to a poor family, in a stable, and laid in a manger. And this for the Son of God, the Savior of the world! And then there was the announcement to the shepherds. One would have thought that for an event of this magnitude that a press conference in Jerusalem, or even in Rome, would have been in order. But instead the announcement was made to a humble band of shepherds out grazing their flocks in the open field.
What the angel told the shepherds was this: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). What did the shepherds understand by this? Undoubtedly they would have understood it in a Jewish context. Unfortunately our translation here is a little misleading. The King James Version translates the last clause of verse 10 as "which shall be to all people," universalizing the message, making it applicable to the entire human race. The Greek, however, has a definite article, and so it should be translated "that will be for all the people" (cf. NASV, ESV, NIV), i.e., referring evidently to one specific nation or people, viz., the nation of Israel. Moreover, when we see the word "Christ," we are likely to think that it is a last name, like "Jones" or "Smith," when in reality it is a title. It is the Greek form for "Messiah" or "anointed One." Moreover, the angel mentioned "the city of David" as the place of birth. The Old Testament prophet Micah had predicted that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, David's home town (Mic. 5:2). David, in turn, was the ancestor of Judah's royal line. Thus the angel was announcing the birth of Israel's long-awaited Messiah, Who would deliver the nation from oppression and usher in an age of peace.
But for those of us who are not Jewish by birth or ancestry there is a broader significance here as well. The reign of the Messiah will affect the entire world. It will be a time of perfect peace and righteousness. But how will that come about? What we have today is a world full of exploitation and violence, and all of this can be traced back to a fundamental defect of human nature. Obviously something is going to have to change.
There are two aspects to this problem. First there is the problem of our guilt before God. If God is just and holy, He must punish sin. But we are all sinners, and have already committed numerous sins in the past. If we are made to pay for those sins we are doomed. But in order for God to forgive those sins some sort of atonement must be made, and this is what Christ accomplished on the cross.
The second aspect of the problem is primarily psychological. We sin because we are born with a human nature that is predisposed to sin. One older woman of our acquaintance put it this way: "I have been a mother and now I am a grandmother, and I have never yet had to teach a child how to steal cookies!" Stealing comes naturally, and parents have to teach their children not to steal. Unfortunately lots of other things come naturally, too – lying, cheating, fighting, gossiping, and all the rest. But somehow that must all change if we are ever to enter the Messianic kingdom.
Salvation, then, also involves an inward change, and this is largely accomplished through the work of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This work begins with the new birth, and continues through the life-long process of sanctification.
As human beings we lead a profoundly dysfunctional existence. The birth of the Savior in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago promises to change all that. It was the first ray of hope in the dark night of sin and misery. The long war is by no means over, but the decisive victory has already been won.