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Advent Angels Sighting #4

Please read Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Our focus during Advent has been on the angels. But this week I’ve read and heard a lot about the shepherds. One fellow said they were servants of the temple, tending the sheep used for the sacrifices. Another said they were hiding out, complaining and maybe even plotting against the census that had been ordered by Rome. I suppose either, neither, or both of those things could be true.

What I believe is indisputable, however, is that these were ordinary joes, working men suddenly overtaken by God and by history in the course of their ordinary lives. It ought to serve as an inspiration to all of us that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to ordinary folks. The angels bypassed the palaces and temple and went to a worksite. The good news came first to people much like us. That’s God’s justice and maybe His sense of humor.

CONTEXT: The scene is a countryside, which fits with Bethlehem as a rural village and with Luke’s theme of the most important birth happening without the notice of the world’s rich and powerful. KEEPING WATCH means they were taking shifts looking out for predators and keeping the flocks together.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

1. Luke reveals information about angels.

A single angel appeared first and delivered the message. The angel is not named, but it might have been Gabriel who did all the talking in chapter one.

The situation starts out very much like the other angelic visitations: sudden appearance, glorious light, fearful response, angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” Another consistent feature is that the message is GOOD NEWS. Contrary to the angelic message delivered to Mary and Zechariah, this one is not going to affect the size of the shepherds’ families.

It is GOOD NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. That is, for all the people of Israel, as directly stated in 1:17, 68, 77. On the other hand, Luke tended to use this expression to refer to the “common people” as opposed to their religious and political leaders.

It will occur IN THE TOWN OF DAVID; a hint that it will fulfill prophecy. As we see later, Jesus did not fulfill popular expectations of the Messiah, but He was obedient to fulfill prophecy and the will of God the Father.

A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU indicates that this baby will be more than just another heir of David. He will play the pivotal part in God’s salvation. This is an exceptional verse. There are three titles mentioned in v.11; SAVIOR, CHRIST (“Messiah” or “Anointed One”), and LORD. This is the only New Testament text where all three titles appear together. This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as “Savior.”

THIS WILL BE A SIGN: a circumstance so unique that it will be possible to identify the individual child. A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER are a mixed message; the CLOTHS imply the baby is wanted and cared-for, but LYING in a manger feels like abandonment. Verse sixteen makes it clear the when they arrived, the shepherds found MARY and JOSEPH there, so the baby was not abandoned after all.

Once the message is delivered, A GREAT COMPANY of angel APPEARED. A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST uses military terminology, but their activity is not military, it is worship; they glorify God. Worship of God in heaven seems to be the primary activity of angels and we see it here for the first time. Given the importance of Jesus’ birth, it makes sense to worship God on this occasion.

The worship promotes the idea that PEACE is the thing God is attempting to achieve here. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, a temporary ceasefire. It is a state of prosperity, security, and harmony, a degree of well-being, a taste of heaven on earth. In Old Testament prophecy, a state of shalom is associated with the kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring to pass.

Who are the recipients of this peaceful kingdom? The angels’ hymn says cryptically, MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS. We don’t have enough information here to know whether this meant the Jews or the Church or both, in their turns. It doesn’t really matter as the emphasis is not on the MEN, but on God’s FAVOR, or His grace. Neither the Jews nor the Church deserve God’s FAVOR, so it is purely grace.

The message delivered, the angels returned to HEAVEN. After all, they came from heaven.

2. The shepherds responded faithfully.

They responded immediately. In the same sentence that reports the angels’ return to heaven, the shepherds have decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out (verse fifteen). Verse sixteen states they HURRIED OFF to Bethlehem. This detail conveys an immediate response but also implies an enthusiastic one too.

They responded enthusiastically. All that is reported about the shepherds conveys people who were understandably enthused to have been visited by angels and saw for themselves that the angel’s good news was perfectly true.

They responded worshipfully. Verse twenty tells us the shepherd glorified and praised God, just as the company of angels had done in verse sixteen. What they thought was praiseworthy was that God had kept His promises. Everything the angels announced had come to pass; they had HEARD and SEEN it for themselves.

They responded evangelistically. Verses seventeen and eighteen tell us the shepherds SPREAD THE WORD. They reported their encounter with the angels and their meeting the baby and His parents. These verses also report the reaction of those who heard the shepherds’ testimony: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED. As we’ve seen, amazement is the usual reply when people perceive God at work.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

What strikes me about Luke chapter two after verse two is that the only people mentioned who are “high and mighty” are the angels. The HEAVENLY HOST appear in contrast to the powerless people who are named in this chapter. Jesus is a baby; Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and literally everybody else are peasants. This alone ought to squelch our ambition to “be somebody” or even get noticed. We can get tired of our routine, long to escape our ordinariness. Have you ever been greeted by someone who asked, “What’s new and exciting?” What did you answer?

The shepherds had an answer to that question. “Let me tell you something!” they’d say with excited voices. Here’s something new and exciting: we have exactly the same good news that they did! Jesus is born! God has kept all His promises and delivered life and light to everyone in the dark shadow of death.

The angels and the shepherds had the same job, only the shepherds were volunteers. Their job was to tell the GOOD NEWS. That is our job too. We have news to share and in this season we have an abundant opportunity to share it!

RESOURCES:

Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

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