Read Luke 2:1-21 here.
A story most of us have heard for years… What if we try to see it in a new light?
Starting at the beginning.
So it’s been a little over 400 years since the last recorded sign from God. Messiah has not come. Maybe many people have given up hope and secretly think he will never come.
The Greeks have come and gone, and now the Roman Empire is steadily taking over. Herod is placed over the Jews to manage them for Caesar. In the past four centuries, history has been moving without the people of Israel: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and Spartacus have lived and died. Perhaps the Jews are aware of the events happening around them. Then again, for the past nine months they’ve been unaware of the GREATER history growing among their people!
Then, Octavian (Caesar Augustus) orders a census to see how much he’s controlling. People are switching towns. Inns get a lot of business. Roads are full. Days of travel in both heat and cold. A young couple finds themselves in Bethlehem and all the inns are crammed full. One innkeeper is gracious and lets them have his stable for the night. Stalls full of horses, maybe some belonging to Roman soldiers. A couple cows. Probably there are quite a few lambs for sacrifice.
Of course, some of those sacrifices are just going to be ceremonial. Where has God been the last four hundred years anyway? he hasn’t spoken up. Will he care if they move on from religion?
Some shepherds are on a nearby hill with their sheep for the night. They are thieves and criminals, and this is basically the only job they are seen as good for. As dew descends, they settle in for a long night of watching the sheep in their pens. They’ve gotten used to living together. No one else pays attention to them, and they’re learning to be okay with that. It’s just the way the world works.
And then suddenly a blinding light appears in the sky! What is happening?? No natural phenomenon can explain a brilliant sun at midnight! not only light but color! Sounds! GLORY all around them! And in the middle, a massive, majestic angel of God. So God is real! Here he is, speaking to His chosen people through an angel! Doubts flee in the face of his glory. And the shepherds know that even if this glory was not meant for them to see (the angel is obviously in the wrong place), at least they have seen it, and it has changed their lives. They know. They know God is real. They know of his majesty and kindness. He has appeared to man!
And it is terrifying. Blinding, swirling, trumpeting light. Who can stand before the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob? The shepherds fall to their knees and cover their eyes, unable to look at the glory, all thoughts of sheep thrust from their mind.
Then the angel speaks: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Immediately the shepherds realize two things:
• the angel is speaking to them. This is not a drill or a mistake!
• they need not be afraid, God is on their side. Not only is his glory amazing, but it is also good.
and then with ears that can barely take it in, they hear words they can’t register fast enough: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the LORD.
THE MESSIAH! the Messiah is coming! Tonight! On a night overrun by people obeying the Roman Caesar, the Messiah has arrived.
Did they understand he would deliver them from more than Rome? “Great joy for all the people.” His kingdom lasts forever!
Then before they even know what’s happening, the sun multiplies into thousands of suns! THOUSANDS of angels, singing the most beautiful song creation has ever heard:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!
Their song seems to go on forever and at once seems too short. Time stands completely still, for time is not a thing God is limited by, and heaven opens to the shepherds for eternity until the angels depart.
The shepherds stand in shock until they remember the things the first angel said. Look for a baby in a manger, a feeding trough! So they move. This is the Messiah! Among the horses and lambs and cattle they find two exhausted young people. A young teen girl who has just given birth for the first time. Her protective betrothed, who sits a respectful distance away while gazing adoringly at the baby in the girl’s arms. The baby is unremarkable, not particularly cute as far as newborns go, but they know who he is. He is God with us. All of a sudden he is glorious, not just a crying, red baby!