8 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 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. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)
At the same time as the birth of Jesus Christ was taking place in Bethlehem, there were in the same countryside or region shepherds. These were men who took care of sheep and goats. Presumably, some of these sheep would be chosen for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem or selected for each individual families Passover Lamb.
These shepherds were out in the field. They were living outdoors because they were keeping watch over their flock. They were guarding their flock of sheep from potential predators and danger. The text also informs us that it was nighttime. In other words, aside from any presumed bonfire the shepherds may have made, or stars visible in the night sky, it was dark.
One commentator explains that, “Bethlehem was nearby Jerusalem, and many of the sheep used in the temple sacrifices came from there. The surrounding hills were prime grazing land, and shepherds worked in the area day and night, all year round. Therefore it is not possible to draw any conclusion about the time of year by the fact that shepherds were living out in the fields.”
It was during this nighttime setting that “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” What a striking visual contrast to what existed just moments prior to this angel’s appearance. Darkness gave way to the glory of the Lord. Tranquility and relaxation gave way to great fear. The uncommon eclipsed the common. The unfamiliar outshone the familiar. The sacred replaced the secular.
The great fear the shepherds experienced is described in the Authorized Version (KJV) as being “sore afraid.” Not “so afraid” but “sore afraid.” Their bodies ached from 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.” The angel, as God’s messenger, commanded the shepherds to not fear, but rather to pay close attention. This was because the angel was bringing them good news of great joy. This good news would not only be for the shepherds but for all kinds of people.
It is interesting to note that shepherds were considered lower class by the Jewish culture. One commentary explains that, “Due to the proximity to Jerusalem, some scholars have suggested that the flocks here are the temple flocks raised for sacrifice. This narrative would have challenged the values of many religious people, who despised shepherds; shepherds’ work kept them from participation in the religious activities of their communities.”
What was the good news the angel possessed? We will examine the rest of today’s text when next we meet. Until then, remember that God chooses ordinary people, like shepherds, to do extraordinary work.
Soli deo Gloria!