Summary: When we think of the wonder of what God did at Christmas, we just have to celebrate.
We love the quietness and intimacy of many parts of the Christmas story. The arrangements are made by angel messengers, who appear very privately, to Mary, face to face, and to Joseph in a dream. Mary ponders the wonder of it all, deep in her heart. A peasant couple quietly slips into Bethlehem, unnoticed by anybody. They give birth to their first child in a place for animals.
But then something happens that blows the quietness. Those poor shepherds are just minding their own business in the middle of the night. Some are sleeping. Probably one is struggling to stay awake and bored to tears. And suddenly angels appear and there is this magnificent sound and light show in the sky, and the mood is totally different. Whenever an angel appears, things are totally different.
Our text for this morning is Luke 2:8-15. You can find it on page 58 of the New Testament section of your pew Bible. Please stand for the reading of God’s word.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
Angels have been very popular in recent years, with all sorts of the cutesy little angels drawn in cards and molded into figurines. But the cute little angels have nothing to do with the Bible. What happens most of the time when someone sees an angel in the Bible? Do they bend down to pet it on the head, “Oh, aren’t you the cutest little thing?”
How did the shepherds feel about seeing just one angel? Look in verse 9 of our text. “They were terrified.” Over and over people are terrified when they see angels. They are very different from what we are used to seeing. Something of the glory of God himself shines around them. And I can’t explain how that works. But we know it can be scary. And when angels are sent to deliver a message from God, usually they have to start out by telling people not to be afraid, before they can have any hope that people will be in any shape to hear the message.
I’ve had a little scenario rattling around in my mind this week. I can’t imagine that it is true, but maybe it helps to understand angels. My imaginary scenario runs like this:
As the day of Jesus’ birth approached, I can imagine the angels in heaven being very excited. This project had been in the works for centuries as God prepared the world for the birth of his Son. It was just an incredibly gracious and loving thing for God to do, to stoop down and become one of us. The angels were dying to see what humans would think about this.
And as they went over the details of the birth, I can imagine they were quite touched by the details of God’s humility in the birth of Jesus. But I picture one of the angels reading the plan, and then saying, “Is that all? There should be a big splash for an event like this! A worldwide celebration! This is time to party! It just isn’t right that such a great event should happen with so little notice. We angels have been waiting for so long to make this announcement. This is our day, too. There’s enough of us to hit every large city and every medium sized town and a whole lot of villages, too. That’s what angels do.”
So, they went to God’s throne room, to point out to God that he had overlooked an important part of the plan. And God says, “Come on, how many times have I had to remind you angels? Humans are frail and they get upset easily. You’ll scare them all! And I want people to think deeply about what I’ve done. The spectacle you are talking about might get a lot of them on the bandwagon, but they wouldn’t really think about what I’m doing. No angels for this one.”