It’s a familiar scene. A child dressed like an angel stands with arms outstretched as the narrator reads, “Fear not . . .” Then the entire children’s choir stands as the narrator continues, “and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying. . .” On cue, our precious little ones sing, “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-ria, in excelsis Deo!” We delight for those few moments in our children’s Christmas joy. But it isn’t long before we leave their world and return to the disappointments, challenges, and threats that surround us. And many of us are left wondering, “How can any reasonable adult be merry at Christmas?”
To answer this question, we must remember the troubling conditions that were present when the angels sang. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1). These words reveal that the angels’ joy was not rooted in childlike naïveté. Satanic forces empowered governments that oppressed the people. Moral corruption ran rampant within Israel. The faithful were ostracized, mocked and threatened by violence and persecution at every turn. Sound familiar? The world Christ was born into was very much like our own.
eager for battle
The angels were not a sweet children’s choir. They were “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). In the Bible, “Lord of hosts” most frequently refers to God as the One who leads the armies of heaven, angels who battle Satan and demonic forces. So, when the angel announced: “I bring you good news of great joy. . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11), much as ancient human armies sang as they entered battle, these angels sang—a vast army eager to fight against every power that threatens God’s people.
joy of victory
To understand the “great joy” of this first Christmas, we must recognize what was so astonishing about Jesus’ birth. First, the words “good news,” or “gospel,” usually make us think of how Jesus brings salvation to individuals who believe in Him. “Good news” includes that, but passages such as 2 Samuel 18:31 reveal that this phrase is actually the announcement of victory in battle. Second, the term “Savior” makes us think again of how Jesus saves individuals from sin. Again, “Savior” includes that, but passages such as Zephaniah 3:17 teach that a “savior” is a warrior, one who delivers his people from harm and grants victory.
In response to the certainty of victory for “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), the angelic army sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). And this praise should fill every heart, even the hearts of “reasonable” adults. Evil threatens on every side, but we know the good news that victory is sure. Christ our victorious warrior has been born.