On this 3rd Sunday in Advent, we will focus on the shepherds and the shock, astonishment, and fear they felt as the angel of the Lord came to them. Throughout, I will be posting the scripture from Luke.
In our Prayer Group on Thursday night, we focused on the feeling of fear. I put the scenario in modern day terms to get a focus on what emotion we would be feeling. Here is the picture I painted for them:
Tonight we are going on a journey. We are camping in a park and suddenly we see lights so bright that we are blinded. We hear strong booming voices. What are we feeling right now? All of us are feeling FEAR. We have no major weapons; there are aliens among us; we are in great and mortal danger; and we have no means of escape. What do we do? What would you do? Seriously, if you were there, what would you do? Give us heart felt answers, your immediate response.
Here are some of the responses: I would hide behind a tree and shake like a leaf; I would be frozen, my heart beating so fast; I would run as fast as I could; I would cry; I would hide under my dog; I would be speechless and shaking; my heart would be beating so fast everyone could hear it.
I am sure the shepherds felt similar emotions when the bright light came upon them and loud sounds. Let’s look at this for a moment.
And there were in the same country [the vicinity of Bethlehem] shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Now, the shepherds would stay in a field, often one that had been cultivated (the farmers like the sheep to fertilize the fields so would invite the shepherds to stay). Usually, this would be in the late summer or early fall; that was when the manure would be most effective. So this could be an indication the Jesus was born during the time of early fall, September possibly. In December it is too cold for shepherds to watch their flock in the fields, and Mary and Joseph would be hard pressed to travel during this time. But we don’t know the exact time. Hundreds of years ago, the time that becomes for us as December 25th was chosen. There are many opinions as to why it was chosen for this day. But in reality, it does not matter. We can celebrate it at any time.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon [stood by] them [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
The words “came upon” are translated from the Greek word epeste which means “stood by”. The angel was not flying over them. He was standing beside them. Angels in God’s Word appear as men [sorry-no record of a female angel]. They do not appear with wings. They do not sing. Yet, imagine one appearing next to you …..out of the blue. I would be startled and afraid. Angels are messengers. They speak God’s Word. They “say” what God’s wants said. The pictures and teachings about angels in our day and time do not reflect the accuracy of God’s Word. But once again, we can imagine an angel as anything that we choose. God can have an angel look in any manner that works for Him. In this case, it was a man, as in most Old and New Testament recordings. And the angel told them to not be afraid. He was there to give them a message. How amazing. I still would be a bit skeptical but the fear would lessen.
The message this angel was delivering to the shepherds was “fear not!” “good tidings!” “great joy!” “Christ the Lord!” This is what the people then were waiting for – the Messiah.
As we hear this over 2,000 years later, we still marvel at the events. Now it is our turn to do the job of the angel and spread the word throughout the world. One step at a time,,,one step at a time. We must profess our belief, share it with others, and bring them to know the truth.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Now, they were not too far away, but they had to hurry. God gave them instructions so they could arrive there as quickly as possible. The angel said that the baby was in swaddling clothes and so needed to be lying in the manger that way when they arrived. He most likely was the only newborn baby in little town of Bethlehem that was lying in a manger in swaddling clothes. They would have to hurry after receiving this message to get there while Jesus was still in the swaddling clothes.
Remember for a minute that this was near where David had been a shepherd many years earlier. Coincidence- I think not.
It is amazing to me that shepherds were the only ones chosen by God to be given the message to go see the newborn Christ. Shepherds were considered lowly, almost (not quite) as much socially outcasts as lepers. God probably would have told others but he knew that the priests and religious leaders would not have listened, would have laughed at the thought. They would not have gone to the manger. God told those who he knew would listen and obey. The shepherds were the only ones who were told. The only ones who showed up. The only ones willing to listen. WOW!
And suddenly there was with the angel [standing by the shepherds] a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will [hope] toward men.
Suddenly, these messengers appeared with the angel to deliver this message. This was the message of hope for all mankind. In Arabic this is translated as “good hope for man. They did not sing it. But I bet it sure made an impression!
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
The angels who were standing next to the shepherds ascended back into heaven. The shepherds wasted no time. They said in essence, “Let us go NOW!
And so they went to see and glorify the new born King. It was not far. And then they travelled on to tell the world. Their journey began the process of our Christian heritage being spread.
We have also been visited by the Angel, many times. You may have witnessed him on the streets, ringing a bell, in church in the pew next to you, at home on the coffee table in a book called, THE HOLY BIBLE. This angel in –oh so many forms – is telling you to visit the manger, to see the new born babe – the Christ Child. Witness this event from Matthew and Luke and put yourself there as did the shepherds. Regardless of their fear, their shortcomings, their lack of social prestige, they still journeyed to the manger and believed. And then they set forth on the next journey – to let the world know the Savior was born.
And where are you on your journey?
Let us pray: Almighty God, you sent your angel to announce the birth of Your Son to the shepherds who were the ones who did listen, did go and see and glorify, and who did tell so many others. Give us the wisdom and courage to spread Your Word throughout. Help us be brave and strong and be Your disciple. Let us sing praises to Youand sing them to all to hear. Be with us, O God, on our Journey for and to You. Amen