The shepherds were terrified, and do you blame them? I would bet not a single one of those shepherds had left their homes and their families earlier that day thinking they would see such a spectacle. I would bet that not a single one of those shepherds had left their wives and children thinking they would be doing anything more than watching sheep and chasing off an occasional predator. I’d bet that just about every one of those shepherds believed this would be one more ordinary day doing their ordinary jobs to eke out an ordinary living in a world that had become predictable, even boring.
Sure, many of them probably knew the stories of God passed down from generation to generation, but God had been strangely silent for nearly 400 years. Sure, most of them probably believed that one day God would send His deliverer to restore Israel to its favored status, but the Romans had controlled them for quite some time, and there seemed to be no end in sight to that. Sure, these guys had probably heard a story or two about people having visions and angels speaking and marvelous works and deeds done by God, but they also were probably convinced that such things only happened to the super religious–those who ate, slept, and dreamt the Torah. Such things didn’t happen to ordinary people.
And yet, in this case, such a thing did happen. Such a thing began to transpire before their very eyes. In a heartbeat, the dead of night was transformed into the light of day. In a heartbeat, the darkness became overwhelmingly bright. Where there was nothing, suddenly, an angel appeared: the angel of the Lord. Oh, I know, when we think of angels, we tend to think of beautiful men and women clad in white flowing robes with beautiful, gold wings and halos. We tend to think of them playing harps and bringing a sense of calm and peace. But, I think we need to expand out thoughts of angels. If you study Christian art, you will also come across images of angels who are warriors-dressed in armor with spears and swords. These angels are the ones who do battle with evil, and they can be terrifying in appearance. I believe it is one such angel who appeared to the shepherds. Throughout the Old Testament, the angel of the Lord is revealed in such a fashion, and usually, when folks see this angel, they are terrified. Why?
Well, think about it, if you were suddenly confronted by a giant, heavenly warrior, what would you think? Would you feel peace and calm. If a giant warrior from heaven suddenly appeared, you’d probably think, "What have I done now? Is God punishing me? Is this the end of the world? Will I ever get to see my family again? Is God’s judgment going to be rendered down upon me this very instant?" You’d probably be convinced these were your last few seconds on earth. It would indeed be very, very terrifying!
But it was not the final moments of life for these shepherds. It was not divine punishment that was to be brought forth. It was not the end of the world. Far from it. It was the beginning. The beginning of the redemption of the world.
The angel spoke, "Fear not, good news great joy for all people. Fear not good news a savior Christ has come. Fear not good news he’ll conquer every evil. Fear not good news your savior Christ is born."
I’m not sure I can even begin, in my wildest dreams to think about how the shepherds’ brains tried to comprehend what they were seeing. I can’t imagine their wonder; their awe; their bewilderment at this event unfolding in front of their eyes.
"And this will be a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
And then, the angel of the Lord was surrounded by a multitude of the heavenly hosts, and they began to sing. They began to raise their voices to proclaim the beginning of God’s redemption. "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to His people on earth!"
Again, I’m not sure I can even begin to wrap my own head around this occurrence. I’m not sure I can comprehend the beauty of this moment. I’m not sure my own brain could process this event had I been there on that hillside watching the heavenly chorus proclaim in song what God was doing. It must have been completely overwhelming.
But when it was over, and the shepherds came to their senses, their fear had left them. No longer were they terrified. No longer were they cowering in fear. Curiosity was left in its place. A longing to see and confirm what the angels had said and sung about now overcame them, and they said, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which the angels have made known to us." And they went with haste and found things just as the angel had said. There indeed was no need to fear. God was at work.
And my brothers and sisters, tonight we gather to remember that God is still at work. God didn’t stop working after that first Christmas so long ago. God didn’t stop working after Jesus preached and taught and healed. God didn’t stop working after Jesus died and was resurrected. God didn’t stop working after He sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost. God didn’t stop working after all the events recorded in the Bible. God is still at work. God is still moving and active. God is still unleashing His Kingdom in the world today. God is still at work redeeming and bringing about good in our world.
But we often forget this. We often forget that God’s power is still unleashed among us. We lose our vision, and it becomes clouded by the events in our world that cause us to fear, to doubt, to worry, and to stress. We lose a loved one and are overcome with grief. Our political party loses an election. We fail to get a high enough grade on a test. We lose a job. A spouse asks for divorce. A loved one is diagnosed with cancer. A news story speaks of a financial cliff. A home is robbed. Another destroyed by fire. A school is shot up. The end of the world is prophesied. We become terrified. If you feel such terror; if you sense such worry; if you are overcome with such grief, hear these words once again:
"Fear not good news great joy for all people. Fear not good news a savior Christ is born. Fear not good news he’ll conquer every evil. Fear not good news a savior Christ has come!" God has entered our world. God has taken on human flesh to redeem us; to bring hope from despair; to bring light into darkness; to turn mourning into dancing. Tonight, we gather to remember this! Tonight we gather to hear of His marvelous work! Tonight we gather to remember that God is at work in you, in me, and in this world! And if God is at work in us, what have we to fear?
Fear not good news great joy for all people! Fear not good new a savior Christ is born! Fear not good news he’ll conquer every evil! Fear not good news a savior Christ has come! Amen. Merry Christmas.