“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
The Gospel was first preached to the shepherds out in the fields – and not to the hustling and bustling crowds in the town. Those who first heard it were associated by name and occupation with the Good Shepherd who had just been born. The setting was where
‘The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
In the midst of the darkness suddenly there was light! How can we imagine the scene, or the emotions that it raised within them? A night in which they probably sat under an awe-inspiring canopy of sparkling stars – with perhaps a full moon casting darkening shadows and bathing the hillsides and flocks in a mystical light. A silent and holy night which caused them to talk in soft voices – and not just because of the settling sheep. Something was strangely and wonderfully different.
Then ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to them!’ Eight little words that describe the indescribable. What was he like – we don’t know. Probably he dazzled them with a blazing light that made him stand out against the half-lit night. And then, he spoke! The first four words were used quite often by angels and by Jesus. Whether or not they calmed the shepherds we are not told. But immediately the angel went on to give them the news of the most remarkable and exciting event that had ever happened in the history of the world and of its relationship with its Creator.
The long awaited and prophesied Saviour had appeared, born a baby and laid in a simple animal feeding trough. Christ the Lord, the Messiah, had been born. And, as we know, the Son of God had come into the world which He had made to die for the salvation of humankind.
The message of the angel was followed by a sudden explosion of sound and light as the heavenly host surged out from a heaven that could not contain their worship and praise of God. They honoured the God of glory in what would have been pure and glorious worship, which no man had ever heard or been caught up in before.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
And then they were gone. The town and the world went about its normal business but a man and a woman, a small flock of shepherds, and some lonely travellers who would follow a bright star through the dark night, knew that something very special had happened.
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.”
So they went – they saw – and they worshipped.
Tonight take time to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you away from the noisy, money-spinning, false colours of the world – out into the fields of your imagination where you can join a few shepherds. Watch and wait with them, and then journey into a quiet stable to meet a watchful man, a woman full of wonder, and a child on whom your future rests.
Touch me Lord that I might see, trust, believe, rejoice and worship. Amen.
(Adoration of the Shepherds – Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590)