10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
I’ve always loved the part of the Christmas story where the vast host of angels show up. There’s something about the way a calm and “normal” night was disrupted by the heavenly visitors that intrigues me. I imagine what it would have been like for the poor shepherds, minding their own business when the sky lit up. Talk about shocking. If it were me, I would have run.
Even more specific than the appearance of the angels, I’ve been drawn in this story to the angel of the LORD’s initial greeting, “Do not be afraid; for behold...” In more modern translations the word “behold” is not included. However, I believe this word is key to the story.
I have a friend named Dave. When we were younger, we both were volunteers in the same youth ministry. One year we were running a fall carnival with games, bounce houses and a wagon ride complete with hay bales to sit on. Dave, in an attempt at humor, stood by the hay ride all night shouting to any passerby, “HEY!” When they looked at him, he would point to the hay bale and laugh. Like Dave, Luke is drawing the reader and grabbing his or her attention. “Behold” means “look” or “hey!” and there is a sense of urgency behind this word. The person speaking wants his or her hearers to pay attention.
And in this use in Luke’s gospel what was there to ‘behold?’ For the shepherds, the announcement is a sign of good news, of joy, a baby and messiah come to earth.
I was curious, were there other instances in the Bible where the word “behold” is used referring to the Messiah? I found two places which I believe serve as bookends for Jesus’ story. If this ‘behold’ in Luke is the central proclamation, the other two are no less significant.
The first is in Isaiah 42:1-4:
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 “He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
3 “A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 “He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”
The first thing that hits me about this “Behold” is the picture of a Servant who looks a lot like Jesus: delighted in by God, full of the Spirit, and gentle in word and deed. His primary mission is bringing justice, a word used three times in this passage. We sometimes read this word through a North American legal lens, but the Hebrew perspective of justice is producing honorable relationships, bringing peace - shalom- to individuals and the nations. Most scholars would equate this Servant with Jesus.
The other bookend “behold” comes at the end of Jesus’ life from the mouth of Pontius Pilate in John 19:5: “Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’”
In each instance, the voice inviting the hearers to “behold” is not the person himself, but rather someone else inviting people to pay attention. Unlike the other two instances, here the “behold” points to a prisoner, and yet this is not dissimilar from the servant seen in Isaiah. Behold- here is one who came to sacrifice all to generate justice to the nations.
As we enter into the Christmas season and hear or see the word “Behold” in readings, carols, or greeting cards, may we pay attention and see the bigger picture:
A Servant bringing justice
A Savior and messiah
A Sacrifice for the nations