The story of the angel’s appearance to the shepherds is probably one of the best known parts of the Christmas story – even the Peanuts character Linus quotes this passage in the Christmas special. Who doesn’t love a good story about angels? And what nativity scene would be complete without the angel hovering over the stable – even though that is not how the story goes. Anyway, here is the story as told in the gospel of Luke.
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.
The great thing about this story, besides the coolness factor of angels, is that it is actually an invitation from God to participate, to witness, the great things He is doing. You see, the angels didn’t just announce the birth, they presumed a certain response from the shepherds – “this is how you will recognize him.” The appearance of the angels was the Father’s way of sharing His will and His plans with us humans and wanting us to be a part of those plans. But what is even more astounding is that for God it was not enough for the shepherds to see and hear angels, He wanted more. He wanted them to see Christ – to see God in the flesh. His goal in everything He does in our lives is to let us see Him – it is always an invitation for more and deeper relationship.
The other thing I love about this story is the response of the shepherds to the invitation. Sure, the angels assumed they would go, but they still had to make that decision. I wonder how many of us would have sat back and basked in the glory of having seen angels without taking it any further? How many of us are content with what God has done for us in the past, but not continue to go looking for Him or responding to His invitation for more? The shepherds heard God’s call – through the angels – and ran, RAN, to see this wonderful thing. We must run after God. We must drop the mundane things of this world and run after God, because He has invited us to join Him. He has already invited us to see His Son. God is telling us what He has done and is doing and saying to us, “this is how you will recognize him.”
I can assure you that the lives were changed that night – the shepherds, Mary and Joseph’s and everyone else that heard the shepherd’s story. The shepherds went back to their daily lives, to their flocks, to their homes, but they went back glorifying and praising God. They were not the same people. You see, when we accept God’s invitation – when we have seen the Child – we will never again be the same.