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.” Hello. No kidding? You’re at work, minding your own business in the stillness of the midnight shift and someone much more powerful than your boss stops by. 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; but no, the angel says he has “good news of great joy.”
At this point, the relief has got to be incredible. You find out in the following verses that God’s long-awaited promise to set everything right is finally kept. This is wonderful news, 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 spirit-world there is a war going on, and the angels are sounding the battle cry. We know that soon there will be threats on the baby Jesus’ life, that Mary & Joseph will have to flee with Him to Egypt. We also know that Satan will be trying to stop Jesus for the rest of His life.
Yeah, 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, through the birth of His only-begotten Son Jesus, began to take back enemy-occupied territory in the battle for human souls.