I love to think of the shepherds, out in the rocky hill country with their sheep, with absolutely no idea of what they were about to see and hear the night the angels came. I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and see the area surrounding Bethlehem as a teenager, and knowing that angels sang above in that same sky still gives me chills. I think we may all put ourselves in the place of the shepherds—seeing their humble lifestyle and profession. They were certainly not well-known or highly respected in their communities. In fact, we do not even know exactly how many there were or what their names may have been. What we do know is that God, in His mysterious kindness, gave these men the first glorious announcement of His Son’s arrival.
Truly, can’t we all sit in wonder at how God’s goodness and love extends to each of us? These verses in Luke describes the shepherd’s reaction to the angel’s announcement:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” - Luke 2:8-9
I think it is safe to say that these poor shepherds were completely caught off guard and, as verse 9 describes, “filled with fear.” The knowledge and the experience of God’s glory are two very different things. These shepherds may have known full well of God’s holiness and splendor. But on this night, they saw and experienced the majesty of His glory. Notice it tells us not only the angel appeared to them, but the GLORY of the Lord shone around them! The majesty of our Creator is not something we should forget or overlook as we remember the birth of Jesus so many years ago. Our King of Kings, lying in a lowly manger, and the GLORY OF GOD was filling the night sky only miles away.
As God’s glory overwhelmed these men, we read how the angel continues with his wondrous news—telling the shepherds not to fear, but to celebrate!
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:10-14
The arrival of the long-awaited Savior of the world had finally come, and a multitude of angels appeared from Heaven in our world to rejoice and praise God! Do we find ourselves looking back at this real event in real human history and miss the awesome glory in this moment? I love nativities. We always had several nativities in our house at Christmas when I was a little girl, and I loved rearranging the wise men, the sheep and shepherds—placing each figure in just the right spot to get the perfect angle of the little ceramic baby in his manger. I will tell you that these days I find myself sitting and watching my daughter doing the same thing. And I wonder, Do we realize that it’s really real? There were really shepherds, sheep, hay, a donkey. Only, there was no posing—no staging. It was spontaneous, and full of complete surprise and mystery! If we are going to remember the miracle of angels in the sky, shepherds running through the streets—possibly with sheep flung over shoulders—we MUST not lose the glory of God! I am so thankful for our Christmas traditions, dusty ornaments and tangled lights in plastic tubs that come out every year—it is no exaggeration to say it is the most wonderful time of the year at my house! But I pray that the sacred truths of God’s most precious gift are not lost as we teach our children about this most amazing night!
“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” -Luke 2:15-20
I pray that as we celebrate another Christmas, that we remember the awe and wonder and reality of Jesus coming to earth for US! And I pray that, like the shepherds, we will run to worship Him and glorify Him with all we have today. Glory to God in the highest!