The third angelic visitation happened 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 time (the middle of the night) and at this odd place (the middle of a field) an angel of the Lord appeared to them to announce the birth of the Messiah.
You might also note the oddity of an angel appearing to these strange characters, for it seems peculiar that shepherds would be a chosen group to receive the good news. Shepherds, you might imagine, were a crusty, rangy 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 then sleep on the ground all night? So why announce the birth to them? 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 no, God’s invite list includes a group of lowly 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 likely 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 2:9 describes the angel’s appearance to the shepherds and how “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 and Mary and now to the shepherds. Is this really necessary? Apparently so. Favor, that is divine favor, produces 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. To receive it means you have to do the most terrifying of all acts: you have to trust.
God’s message to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds is that He loves them in their unprepared state. God loves you in your unprepared state. Acknowledge it and open your hands in trust. Once you get through the fright, it is joy. A sure joy.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.
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