The third angelic visitation occurred to shepherds who were minding their own business, which is to say that they were minding sheep. They weren’t preparing for Christmas; they were preparing for bed. At this odd point (in the middle of the night) and at this odd place (in the middle of a field) the “angel of the Lord appeared to them.”
I might add that the angel appeared “to these odd characters,” for it seems odd that shepherds would be included. Shepherds, as you might imagine, were a crusty, mangy sort, often young boys (remember David) and not high in society. After all, who do you hire to push smelly animals about all day and to sleep on the ground all night? So why not announce the birth of the Messiah to say, merchants – sellers of purple – to foreshadow royalty or to bureaucrats – to foreshadow His administration? But God’s invitation list includes a group of shepherds. Perhaps He felt that they deserved an explanation for the star, since – having no roof over their head – they had been staring at it. Or perhaps the reason is more basic (and more profound). Perhaps God picks a smattering of people to show that He picks a smattering of people. An Archangel shows up to ordinary shepherds because God wants ordinary people.
Luke adds to this appearance that the “glory of the Lord shone all around them.” And they were terrified. There it is again. God scares the recipients of the message of good news, only to then command, “Do not be afraid!”
This same thing happened to Zechariah, to Mary and now to the shepherds. Is this really necessary? Apparently so. Favor, that is divine favor, brings human fright. Divine favor means that you are chosen. It means that God wants you, not because you dress up nice or smell good, but because He wants you. God’s favor comes to you in a way that means you didn’t make it happen, couldn’t make it happen and can’t make it stay. God’s message to Zachariah, Mary and to the shepherds is that He loves them in their unprepared state. Gift-love catches us off-guard. Gift-love, you can’t prepare for; you just receive. Divine favor frightens human sense of control.
But once you get over the fright, it is joy. A sure joy.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.