Why Do We Say ‘Good Tidings of Great Joy’ at Christmas?

The true meaning of Christmas is celebrating “Good Tidings of Great Joy”— the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Christians throughout the world say this phrase because it echoes the words the angel spoke to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born.

Why Do We Say ‘Good Tidings of Great Joy’ at Christmas?

In Luke 2:10, an angel tells the shepherds out in the fields, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Over time, it has become common during Christmas time for individuals to say “Good Tidings of Great Joy” to one another.

If a person was unfamiliar with this particular passage of Scripture and its surrounding context, one might be confused as to why people say, “Good Tidings of Great Joy.”

The Words from an Angel

“Good Tidings of Great Joy” comes from the angel’s words in the Gospel of Luke. The angel had come to the shepherds tending their flocks at night in order for them to know the Messiah had been born (Luke 2:8-20). Ultimately, the angel was proclaiming the message of Jesus being born into the world.

From what the Bible tells us, the shepherds were overcome with terror at the sight of the angel and the glory of the Lord around them (Luke 2:8-9). The brilliance, beauty, and majesty would have given the shepherds quite a fright especially since they had been accustomed to quietness, stillness, and darkness as they shepherded their flocks at night.

Rather than being frightened, the angel comforts the shepherds and tells them not to be afraid. The angel did not mean to scare the shepherds — rather, the angel had great news to tell the shepherds. This good news was going to bring great joy to all people in the world (Luke 2:10).

The good news was that the Messiah had been born into the world. The angel tells the shepherds the good news that would provide great joy to the world in Luke 2:11, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Some translations render “good news” as “good tidings,” especially older versions of the Bible.

In the New International Version, the word “tidings” is changed to “news” in order for the audience of today to understand what the angel was speaking to the shepherds. In the 21st century, it is not common for people to utilize the word “tidings.”

Since the word “tidings” is not used often by modern English speakers, newer versions and translations have updated the word “tidings” to “news” in order for the reader to understand the angel was bringing the shepherds good news about the Savior’s birth into the world.

Even though “tidings” is normally not utilized in more modern versions of the Bible, the idea of using the word “tidings” still remains. The King James Version renders Luke 2:10 as, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

The King James Version has been a very popular version in the past as well as its popularity still stretches into the modern-day. Whether you use the KJV, the NIV, or another version, the main message is still there — the angel was bringing the shepherds a message that was going to cause great joy for all people.

The King James Version usage of the word “tidings” would have been used because “tidings” would have been a popular and well-known word for “news” or “message” during the publication of the King James Version. Known for its poetic words, the King James Version has a special place in many people’s hearts.

The word “tidings” is a beautiful word that people have chosen to keep over time from the King James Version, which is why we say “Good Tidings of Great Joy” at Christmas. We say this phrase because it is a reflection of what the angel tells the shepherds out in the field. “Good Tidings of Great Joy” is actually speaking about the Good News of Jesus being born in the world.

Many people who are not Christians will even find themselves saying this phrase, unbeknownst to them that it comes from the Bible passage in Luke 2:10. Believers today say, “Good Tidings of Great Joy” to remind each other about Jesus and the great joy He has given to us.

What Did the Shepherds Do?

After the shepherds had received this message of great news from the angel, they were given instructions on where to find the Messiah in order for the shepherds to worship the newborn King. The angel told the shepherds that they would find the Messiah wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).

At that moment, a huge host of other heavenly beings appeared alongside the angel and they worshipped God by proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14). Once the angels had left to return to heaven, the shepherds immediately went in search of the newborn King (Luke 2:15).

When they arrived in Bethlehem, the shepherds had found the Messiah just as the angel had said — wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:16-20). After the shepherds had worshipped the Lord, they went out and told everyone about the good news of the Savior being born into the world (Luke 2:20).

The shepherds told the good news of Jesus everywhere they went as they wanted all people to know the same message the angel had spoken to them as well as what they had seen with their own eyes. In the same way, Christians today need to follow the example of the shepherds.

We should be willingly, actively, and prayerfully going out to all people and telling them about the “good tidings of great joy” — Jesus. At Christmastime, “Good Tidings of Great Joy” is articulated from the mouths of thousands of people across the world and its true meaning is found in telling others the good news of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is the perfect time to spread the gospel and help other people come to know the Lord. Simply proclaiming, “Good Tidings of Great Joy,” could cause many people to approach you, inquiring about what is the meaning of your words. You will be able to happily tell them the good tidings of knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Even though many people celebrate Christmas in a secular sense by focusing on purchasing the most expensive gifts, glorifying Santa Claus, or other traditions, Christians can help others know the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is not about toys, gifts, or elaborate parties.

What Does This Mean?

The true meaning of Christmas is celebrating “Good Tidings of Great Joy”— the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Christians throughout the world say this phrase because it echoes the words the angel spoke to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born.

We speak these words because it reminds us of the birth of Jesus and how wonderful, precious, and glorious His birth was in the world. Jesus was born into the world to save us from our sins. He willingly died for us because He loves us (Romans 5:8).

To know that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us brings great joy into our souls. Christmastime is truly a season of great joy because it is remembering, honoring, and praising the birth of Christ into the world. Maybe you already use this saying or maybe not.

This year, you can now say “Good Tidings of Great Joy” and understand the significance of this phrase. You may even have an opportunity to help lead someone in placing their faith in Jesus by speaking this phrase. The Lord is truly our joy not only during Christmas but also during every second of our lives.

For further reading:

What Happened on the First Christmas?

Why Do We Say ‘Glory to God in the Highest' at Christmas?

How Was There Peace on Earth at Jesus’ Birth?

What Do We Know about the Shepherds at Jesus’ Birth?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/vladans

Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.