It was a night like so many that had gone before. Supper was over, the dishes had been washed and put away, and the tired children slowly went off to their tents, hoping for just a few more minutes to listen to their parents or relatives tell bedtime stories about life in the wilderness. Like all nights, the sky gradually grew darker and darker, giving way to the starry host as it made its grand appearance. In the darkness, the large herds of sheep were settling into a quiet night of grazing in the fields around the little town of Bethlehem. The shepherds themselves were either sitting around a campfire or perhaps bedding down after a long day of watching over their flocks.
Suddenly, without warning, an angel of the Lord stepped out of eternity and landed with indescribable and radiant glory right into the midst of their encampment. It was as if a doorway had been opened and the veil between heaven and earth was removed for just a moment in time – a moment that had been planned even from before the creation of the earth.
As the shepherds stood or knelt in amazement, the Gospel of Luke tells us that “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (2:9, NIV). This “glory” was the light of God’s heaven bursting forth in a way that absolutely frightened even the most hardened man or woman amongst them. Here was light so brilliant, so glorious – so dazzling, so much like the sun, that no one could actually look at it – they could only bow down in reverent awe and wonder. What these shepherds experienced that night was the glory of God expressed through an angelic messenger! Undoubtedly, this would be a night they would never forget for as long as they lived.
After the first angel made his appearance, I can just imagine the choirs of heaven getting warmed up behind the scenes to make their grand entrance. I’m sure all the angelic hosts were on tip-toe just waiting for the command to appear before the shepherds. And how could they not? Nothing like this had ever happened before! This was the long-awaited moment when the Messiah would make His glorious appearance. This was the fullness of time when Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM, would step out of heaven and take upon Himself a human body.
Just think of it! The Everlasting Father, whose presence fills the entire universe and beyond – the Eternal God who rules over billions and billions of stars decided to “become a peasant baby who like every infant who has ever lived, had to learn to walk and talk and dress himself” (Philip Yancey). What a miracle!
But first, the solitary angel who had lit up the night-sky around Bethlehem had a message to proclaim. It was his job to announce the coming of the Messiah with all the passion and strength of voice that he could muster. Like the sounding of a trumpet he called out to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great
joy….Today in the town of David a Savior has been
born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign
to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:10, 11, NIV).
What I absolutely love about this announcement is that the angel said this was news of great joy! What distinguishes the gospel of Jesus Christ from everything else is that it is a gospel of joy! There is no room for sadness in the presence of such wonderful news, for the angel said that his message was one of joy and happiness!
You see, joy is what defines the gospel Jesus Christ. Running throughout the entire Bible is the constant theme that joy is to be the hallmark or one of the main characteristics of God’s people. Ours is not a message of sadness, but of gladness and great joy!
How we must remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news which comes to us from a good Heavenly Father who’s “love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1, NIV). And this good God, who tells such good news, wants us to be filled with a joy that goes beyond anything – absolutely anything – the world has to offer.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that after the first angel was finished, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel” (2:13, NIV). It was as if the hosts of heaven literally burst out of eternity and with one voice began to praise God by saying:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on
earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”
(Lk. 2:14, NIV).
No one seems to remember how long the angels spent ringing out their message of joy and peace. Undoubtedly, anyone who was there that night would have been absolutely mesmerized by it all. I’m sure it would have seemed like time stood still – and perhaps it did, for when ushered into the presence of eternity, who would dare try to check the time?
And so, when the angels were finished their proclamation, Luke tells us that the shepherds very simply and humbly said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (2:15, NIV).