Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock … (Luke 24: 8-20)
These poor shepherds. Partway through the night watch, keeping a somewhat drowsy eye on hundreds of sheep, they’re convinced it’s going to be a night like any other. The stars are moving in their winter dance, the moon rises and falls in its usual pattern, and the night sounds of the field are soothingly normal.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the angels’ coming wasn’t gentle and easy. I doubt Gabriel, the messenger angel, turned up the dimmer switch slowly on the glory of the Lord to let the shepherds’ eyes adjust. If he had to calm those hyperventilating herdsmen with a “be not afraid,” the angelic appearance must have been enough to throw the burliest sheep-shearer into frozen terror. Cue the instant transition from musing over “That lamb isn’t nursing well” to “Hey look, it’s … an ANGEL??!!”
“Christ and Lord” — in the Jewish mental search engine, those words instantly pull up all scriptural references related to “the Messiah,” including all those passages our shepherds had heard in the synagogue since they were old enough to listen. Not to mention the discussions down at the tavern on a Friday evening about when the Messiah would come to lead an army to overthrow the Romans.
God chooses to announce the coming of His Son into the world in interesting ways. The Divine to-do list in 0 A.D read something like:
- Send Gabriel to Mary.
- Wait quietly while her fiance panics about the imminent death-by-stoning of the girl he cherishes; send angelic dream.
- Freak out a handful of local illiterates by dropping celestial beings into their field with surround-sound background choral performance.
- Send those said local illiterates to tell everybody in town about the Messiah.
- Stick an unusual star in the sky to attract a handful of wise astronomers from somewhere out East.
You think your life gets unsettled during the holiday season? Try hearing an incredible, unbelievable celestial being tell you that the Messiah your family and nation have been waiting for forever has showed up as a newborn in the next town over.
We don’t have any clues about how long after the angels left the shepherds got their act together, took care of the sheep, and decided to trek over to Bethlehem. It probably would have been an hour or so before I could even take a deep breath, but scripture tells us they “went in haste.” And that encounter with Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus was enough to spur them immediately afterwards into telling all their friends, family, and neighbors, and probably everyone in the tavern including all the out-of-towners there for the census, about their amazing night in the fields and town of Bethlehem. They came back changed men, “glorifying and praising God.”
These men, husbands and fathers, and the mothers and daughters too, just hanging out with their sheep one winter night, were given the experience of the ancient prophets and patriarchs: a direct communication, via angelic messenger, of God’s plan of salvation. No night would ever be ordinary again, because one night, they met an angel and saw the Messiah.
Isn’t this pretty much how God works, though? Sometimes He comes quietly and calmly into our experience, so that we slowly become aware of His presence. More often, though, He just … changes our lives. Sometimes through grief, other times joy; the word of a friend that reveals a hidden truth, or an overwhelming moment of beauty, or a near-death experience. There’s no telling how He’ll decide to touch our humanity, and therein lies the great adventure of the Christian life. Laying ourselves open to His will, we’re available for the gentle touch of the infant Savior, the blazing entrance of His angel, or the sorrow at the foot of the Cross.
Copyright 2017 Rebecca Willen