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 Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)
So you’ve probably heard the common application of this part of the Christmas story—that God announces to the lowly shepherds this amazing news so that we might know Christ came for anybody, regardless of social status. I buy that wholeheartedly, but there is so much more to be tasted in these delicious verses of Scripture.
The shepherds were “terrified.” No kidding. Imagine that you’re at work, minding your own business in the stillness of the midnight shift and someone much more formidable than your boss stops by—a being whose power is unlike anything you’ve ever encountered. At this point, you’re not worried about how you’ve been slacking on the job, you’re worried about how you’ve been slacking your entire life! God’s own top brass has arrived and it looks like it’s time for an accounting. You are suddenly acutely aware of your own sin and unworthiness in the presence of a messenger from Heaven; but no, the angel says he has “good news of great joy.”
Upon hearing this, the relief has got to be incredible. You find out that God’s long-awaited promise to set everything right is finally kept. This is wonderful, you’re thinking to yourself. And just about the time you’re getting comfortable with your lone midnight visitor, a whole army of angels appears, probably armed for battle. (Otherwise, why use the military term, “heavenly host”?) Somewhere in the heavenlies there is a battle going on, and the angels are sounding the battle cry, “Glory to God!” There may be peace on earth, at that moment, because the angels are clearing out any demonic interference. We know that soon there will be threats on the baby Jesus’ life, that Mary & Joseph will have to flee with Him to Egypt, and that Satan will be trying to stop Jesus the rest of His life.
Angels are terrifying (almost every time they appear to somebody in the Bible, they tell that person not to be afraid) and it’s because they are God’s special forces in the war against ultimate evil. Christmas was God’s D-Day on Planet Earth. Of course the shepherds were afraid. They were front-line observers as God began to take back enemy-occupied territory in the battle for human souls.