“Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Messiah the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:8-14 NET).
Most scholar’s believe this took place either in the spring or autumn of the year (not mid-winter, as sheep are not wintered in the mountains and the elevation of the Bethlehem area is over 2500 feet or 775 m). Both of these times were times when many sheep were offered in sacrifice in nearby Jerusalem – either for Passover or for the Day of Atonement.
Can you imagine what it would have been like that evening? Keep in mind that there were no street lights in the towns and villages nor along the roads. You would have been sitting in the dark with the sheep, probably with a fire burning. Then suddenly someone was there in your camp! This would have startled you, as someone suddenly jumping out startles us today. But notice that this person had their own light: “the glory of the Lord shone around them”. No wonder they were “absolutely terrified”!
We often associate a “choir” of angels with this scene. Notice what the text calls them: a “heavenly army”. Many translations have the word “hosts” there, which is an old English word for army (which is from medieval Latin). And if there were any doubt, the Greek word here is “stadia” which means an army. Rather than an angelic choir, what the shepherds saw was an army of angels! No wonder they were terrified!
They were told they would find a baby lying in a manger and that this would be the sign that they had found the Messiah. As this has been represented through the years in paintings and artwork, the manger is usually a rustic cradle with pristine, golden straw. The Greek word would be more literally translated a “feeding trough.” This was where the animals would be fed. Sterile and clean it would not have been! Dealing with hay on my grandparents farms growing up, hay was dusty. When you take the sentimentality out of it, the scene looks quite a bit different!
What is wonderful, though, is that the shepherds went, saw, and believed! “So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told” (Luke 2:16-19). If only people today would react in the same way when they see the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah.
The events surround the night of Jesus entering the world as a human being have been forever muddled with what we have seen and heard around the end of December. This emphasizes once again the need to get back get to the Bible and read it for ourselves!
Readings for next week:
11 July – Luke 4
12 July – Luke 5
13 July – Luke 6:1-26
14 July – Luke 6:27-49
15 July – Luke 7:1-23