“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. 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 2:8-14).
We take time away from our study of the Gospel of John for the next two days in order to remember the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In light of our recent study of the glory of God and how believers ought to glorify Him, let’s turn in our Bibles to the familiar account of the heavenly angel’s announcement of the birth of the Christ to the shepherds abiding in the field.
“And in the same region” refers to the area near the City of Bethlehem where the events of Luke 1:1-7 occurred in which Mary gave birth to her first born son, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, or feeding trough, because there was no room for her, the baby and her husband Joseph in the inn.
“There were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Shepherds were a despised class of people in the first century Israel mainly due to their inability to participate in regular worship activities within their communities because of their work. The shepherd’s closeness to Jerusalem indicates that the sheep they were protecting may well have been flocks raised for sacrifice at the temple. That it was night may indicate a warmer time of the year than traditionally perceived and thought of on Christmas Cards and in Christmas Carols.
“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.” While angelic appearances were common in the Old Testament (Genesis 18; Daniel 9:15-17), the shepherds were still filled with tremendous terror when one angel of the Lord appeared to them. Imagine the shepherds spending a quiet peaceful night when suddenly the surrounding darkness flees because the glory of the Lord shone around them. The word glory, in this instance, refers more to the physical brightness and splendor of the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-7).
“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.’” The phrase “fear not,” was also common in Old Testament revelations of God (e.g., Josh 1:9; Judges 6:23; Jeremiah 1:8; Daniel 10:12; cf. Gen 15:1). The angel was not saying to the shepherds to no longer reverence God but rather to not be frightened and scared of God and His heavenly glory. The “good news” or “gospel” is one sourced in great joy and which will be for all types of people. What is this good news?
‘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.” The good news is as follows: (1) a Savior or deliverer has been born; (2) He is Christ the Lord; (3) He is wrapped in strips of cloth picturing not only the common practice for wrapping newborns but also for the recently deceased; and (4) He is lying in an animal’s feeding trough or manger.
Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, “The sign will enable them (the shepherds) to find the baby and it will prove the truth of what the angel said. The stark contrast between His (Jesus’) humility and His exalted identity foreshadows the path of humiliation and suffering that awaits Him.”
“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!” Without any warning or indication, the one angel is now accompanied by a throng of angels. These angels do what God created angels to do: to praise God and speak well of Him. Their specific words of praise parallel the character of the individual they are praising. They give glory, praise and honor to God because He is glorious, praiseworthy and honorable.
The peace or tranquility of which the angels spoke is for those who God is please to give such peace. God’s peace is a gracious gift upon those He is pleased to give it. It is the peace of being justified by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:1).
The glory of God is not only for who He is but also for what He has done, is doing and will do. What was the response by the shepherds to this angelic announcement? What is ours?
Merry Christmas and Soli deo Gloria!