When the shepherds followed a bright star to Bethlehem and the Christ child, it was in response to a previous message delivered by angels:
We may wonder (as we wander): Why this message?
Media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously declared, “The medium is the message.” By this he meant that the means of delivery (technology involved) also has a part to play in conveying the impact of a message. A light bulb, for instance, may have no content to deliver; yet it certainly makes an impact by enabling the creation of spaces at night that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness.
The medium through which the message came to the shepherds that night was a burning, angelic creature. We know the sight was shocking, because we’re told they “were terrified.” (Lk. 2:9) And for good reason; imagine if you took a walk this evening, saw the heavens open, and a fiery creature zoom in close to speak to you? Of course, your heart would be in your mouth; you’d probably be quaking in your snow boots.
Still, it seems the primary impact was from a greater source: “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” (2:9) For these shepherds, it was the brightness of the presence of God – attended by a host of angels – that was too much to bear.
Such is the case when God comes close (see Isaiah’s response in Isa. 6:5). Confronted with such beauty, such absolute goodness and purity, we tend to recoil, with a deep sense of unworthiness. Fear of rejection and condemnation begins
to kick in. We long to disappear – not unlike Adam seeking a covering of fig leaves.
And so the Angel addresses the immediate need first:
“Fear not, for I bring you good tidings (news) of great joy, that will be for all people.” (Lk. 2:10)
And with these words, their quaking hearts begin to calm. A glorious light, combined with a good word of hope, has just ripped open the darkness, and created a space for them: simple shepherds, the lowest class of society. A space to believe something wonderful was going on; a space for acceptance and hope… and a reason to inquire further.
As a medium, our computer technologies can be a double-edged sword. They can shed much light, speed the processing of helpful information, and even bring us close to others. But it in some ways they can also separate, enticing us at times to stay in a virtual world, cut off from potentially scarier, face to face encounters. They can almost become our fig leaves, if we let them.
Christmas reminds us that both the medium and the message matter. It reveals One who, though he dwelt in “inapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16), yet “made himself nothing” Phil 2:2) to draw close – Immanuel, “God with us.” In great humility, he became accessible to us in our humanity, able to sympathize. Feeling our griefs and sorrows, he amazingly took all our unworthiness (and myriad ways of fashioning fig leaves) upon himself. He did this because he came for love, to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
As you consider him afresh this Christmas, may the good news of forgiveness, acceptance, and hope that he brings drive out your fears, and renew your heart to love – because you have been greatly loved by Him (Jn. 3:16). And like the shepherds, may the impact of this wondrous good news be for you a light in your darkness, bringing hope to a world in need of “exceeding great joy.”