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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Angels, Shepherds and Birth Announcements

Play the scene in your mind: angels appear to the shepherds with the divine announcement of the Savior’s birth and the shepherds go find baby Jesus and return to their flocks rejoicing. And that’s it, right? The event is so short that we can encapsulate the whole affair in one sentence. The Nativity scene is burned into our brains. When we slow down and ponder the event, we discover the scene is so incredibly rich.

Luke 2 tells us the shepherds were minding their business when an angel of the Lord appeared, shining the Lord’s glory all around them. The shepherds were terrified! Why? Well, let’s break it down: dark night, bright light where one should not be, an off-subject announcement (who know what they shepherds were discussing, or if they were asleep)—fear seems to be the default response—but don’t stop there. Look and ponder.
The Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, then a multitude of angels. Look at the heritage of these shepherds: Angels guarded the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24); Abraham encountered angels (Genesis 18; 22:11-12); Joshua saw the commander of the Lord’s army armed with a sword (Joshua 5:13-14); the centerpiece of God’s presence in the midst of Israel was the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20).

There are over hundreds of references to angels in Israel’s past, and this birth announcement to the shepherds (“you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”) is not the first birth announcement they’ve been able to deliver: they announced the birth of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 15-16. Note: 16:11) and Samson (Judges 13:3-5). This means that the shepherds knew this particular announcement was uber-significant; after all, they did not announce the birth of just anyone!
Here’s where it gets really interesting: the angels merely announced the birth, so where did the idea come from to leave the sheep and go find the baby? Did the angel tell them, “Go find the baby”? Actually, the idea came from the shepherds, “the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord made known to us.’” (Luke 2:15) And why not, as this birth-announcement pattern historically produced very notable individuals! And they had good reason to rejoice, having gone (Lk 2:20).

Now, as we continue in the Christmas season, think about the people in your context: they are overwhelmed (I believe I can safely say) with the sights and sounds of the celebration of Jesus’ birth; but, who is going to suggest they leave what they are doing for a time and actually go search out the Savior?

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