“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.”
The Christmas hymn “Silent Night” summarizes that verse from Luke 2 when it says, “Shepherds quake at the sight.” Up until that midnight watch, shepherds were more worried about sheep rustlers and predators sneaking up on their sheep. Because the visitor was an angel, we usually imagine that the shepherds had to look up into the sky to see this vision. However, Luke really doesn’t tell us where the angel was. For all we know, he might have walked up and tapped one of the shepherds on the shoulder. Then suddenly the light of heaven might have shown on the scene.
In his narrative about Easter, Luke specifically reports that the two angels at Jesus’ tomb were standing by the women. Also, as Luke wrote the book of Acts, he notes that two men dressed in white were standing by the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven. Even earlier in his account, Luke explains that the angel who appeared to Zechariah was standing by the altar of incense.
So we could say that angels tended to be up-close and personal as they delivered their message. This closeness had an immediate effect on those who received the message. The shepherds were terrified, or filled with fear. Luke describes both Zechariah and Mary being troubled. The women at the tomb were frightened and fell to their knees. Yet the message won out the day in every case. God was letting people know that his plan of salvation was taking another step forward.
Angels were around during the effort God made to convince Abraham that he would indeed have a son. Jacob’s encounters with angels let him know that God was guiding and guarding him. Gideon found out from an angel that he would be successful leading Israel to victory against its enemies. The Bible has over 200 references to angels as God’s messengers. The book of Hebrews refers to them as “ministering spirits, sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”
Yet for all the angels that work for God, they are never the focus of the story. Rather, God’s grace for a sinful humanity comes forward in every instance. Hebrews 1 explains that God’s Son is superior to the angels. The Son alone shares in the flesh and blood of humanity so that he could bring us the inheritance of salvation.
Therefore, with all the references to angels that you will hear during this Christmas season, take time to give God a thank you for the close-up and personal message they provide us concerning God’s Son. Again, Hebrews 1 states that his name is more excellent than theirs. “Jesus” means “Savior.” Specifically, he is our Savior from sin and death.
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