(Luke 2:8-18) In a few days, children around the world will be dressing up. It won’t be in their “Sunday Best” or a new outfit for a party or family gathering. No, they will be dressing up in bathrobes with towels draped over their heads like a headdress or in white sheets with a whole cut out of the middle to put their heads through. They will be angels and shepherds gathered around a cardboard-box manger stall brought out of storage for the annual church Christmas play. Some of the shepherds will act like sheep and some of the little angels more like little demons but the message will be communicate: “…for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)
The third week of Advent tells the story from which the bathrobed shepherds and miniature angels get their lines. It is the story of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds outside Bethlehem who were “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (v.8). Take a moment and read the story from Luke 2:8-18; as you do look for the message of angels and shepherds. Place yourself in the shepherds’ field that night. Ask yourself whether you would be among the angels or the shepherds.
What an honor it must have been to be the angel selected to bring the message of the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Bringing messages from God to humanity was nothing out of the ordinary for the angels. From Old to New Testament, the word translated angel means messenger. It is doubtful that these angels looked like the chubby, little cherubs of medieval art or baby-room wallpaper boarders.
What can be known about angels? Well, first angels only speak for God, by His decree, and never on their own initiative. The message they bring to humanity comes from the throne room of Heaven, not their own imaginations. Also, they are absolutely obedient to their Lord. Whatever it is God wants them to do, they without question or hesitation. As well they are obedient because they worship God. It is their desire to honor God at all times. And finally, the know God. They know Him because they spend time with Him, listen to Him and watch Him. They have heard His wisdom, seen His power, and watched His love poured out on humanity.
On the night of Luke 2, the angels were given the task planned from before creation. It was a task planned by God and later longed for by humanity. Their task was to make known to a select group of people that the time had come for God to come.
When the angels showed up in one of the pastures outside Bethlehem they found the inhabitants more than a bit surprise: “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them [that would be the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terrified.” (v.9)
This brings us to the shepherds. Who were these folks? Specifically, who knows; but in general here are a few points that can be known about the people in the fields that night. First, as shepherds they tended to be on the fringe of society. They spent most of their time away from people and might have even preferred the company of sheep over that of condescending or critical town folk. These people were often seen as “unclean” because of their regular contact with dead animals. As well, because of their regular contact with sheep, which tend to be a bit smelly, they were also literally unclean. Lastly, though for the most part they loved their work it was not work that promised much in the way of excitement, fulfillment or upwardly economic mobility. In other words, they were what they were and that was all they would ever be.
It was to these that the angel said to not be afraid. It was to these that the angel came and told of good tidings of great joy. It was to these, some of the most common of people, that the angel told where to find the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (v.12). What comfort. Even more, what detail. Swaddling clothes, this was a new born they were to look for. In a manger, not a common place for a maternity ward…and these were shepherds, they would know where all the stables were in Bethlehem.
But the greatest message of the angel was that they could go and see their Messiah for to them “was born in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (v.11). In those words were wrapped all their hopes and wildest dreams. In the proclamation of the angel was their only way to a better life. What did they do? They went to see if what was told them was true and when they found that it was they told everyone they met the great news (vv.16-18).
The angels and shepherds, what do we learn from their story? It seems there are two groups represented in this ancient account. The first are people who, in no small way, are like the angels. They have been with God, heard His wisdom, seen His power, know that He is real and love to serve their Lord. These are those whose lives have been changed by the One born that night in Bethlehem. This group, like the angels, takes to news to those who desperately need to hear the good tidings.
Then there are the shepherds. These folks need to hear the good news. If that is you why not, like those first shepherds, take a chance, believe the message and go to see the One born in the manger. His name is Jesus and He indeed is the Savior. He is the one who can change your life. So come to the manger and see and I suspect after you do you too will go and tell.