“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and they glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Yes, it was night in the fields of Ephratha. In more than one sense.
First, it was night in the natural sense. Nothing peculiar about that, for that had happened countless times. That is according to God’s ordinances: night follows day.
But even here we must carefully mark God’s works. It was by Divine appointment that the heavenly committee of the heavenly hosts visited the earth that night.
Jesus was born when the earth was bathed in darkness, even natural darkness. All things have meaning: how much more when the most important event is taking place. Yes, the most important event: nothing before or after that night can compare with the birth of Baby Jesus.
And it must be when the earth is enveloped in darkness.
The same thing is true when Judas went out from the Passover table. The Holy Ghost carefully noted: and it was night.
All these things have significance.
Here the natural darkness is symbolic of the state of things for Israel and for the world.
It was also dark spiritually.
Attend to this: there were but two of the Sanhedrin who waited for the consolation of Israel: Nicodemus and Joseph. And the first named was rather stupid relative spiritual things.
The ministers of Jesus’ day were a bad lot. They were human monsters of wickedness. Many of them were Sadducees, and that was a sect of rich and worldly people who did not believe in the spiritual world. Well might Jesus say: Blind leaders of the blind!
Almost all the people of Israel looked for a natural Kingdom of God. Even the apostles of the Christ, after 3 1/2 years of Christ’s instruction still believed in a natural Kingdom of God.
Politically it was very dark.
It was only 160 years ago that Antiochus Epiphanes slaughtered his thousands, obliterated temple worship, after offering a sow upon the altar in the: House of God.
And they were now under the heel of the hated Romans.
Yes, it was rather dark in Israel.
It was so terribly dark in Israel that everyone could say Ichabod! The glory is departed from Israel!
And there are the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night.
Who are they?
Well, beloved reader, they belonged to the few who were still waiting for the consolation of Israel.
They were dear children of God. There were a few such in Israel. To their number belonged Anna, Simeon, Zacharias and Elisabeth, Joseph and Mary.
Yes, these lowly shepherds belonged to spiritual Israel.
Lowly and despised they were. Shepherds were at the bottom of the social order.
And that answers to the style of God. God chooses the things that are lowly, ignoble, poor and despised. Harlots and publicans enter, while the worldly high, noble and mighty find themselves outside the DOOR.
And it was night.And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them!
Oh! what a sight that must have been. For this angel brought with him the glory of the Lord. And the light of this glory shone round about these lowly shepherds.
And here I sit behind my typewriter trying to tell you something about that unearthly light that shone in the midst of the darkness of Ephratha’s fields! How can I? I never saw the glory of the Lord. I do not know the first things about such light.
Here on earth we see the golden rays of the sun, and we say: What a beautiful day! We see the glitter and the sparkle of that light, and the shadows, but what is that compared to the light that shines in heaven?
In heaven there is no sun or moon or star, but it is light there. God is there in all His glory and it is light. Jesus is there and all His glory and He shines and sparkles of the glory of God.
A few of us have seen that glory, and they all became afraid. Some of us, seeing that heavenly light fell as dead at the feet of the heavenly messengers, such as the apostle John when Jesus appeared to him.
So also here.
The shepherds were not only afraid, but they became sore afraid.
O, I can understand that.
First of all, they are earthy creatures, and the heavenly light does not fit us at all. We are created to look on the light of day and that fits us. And then we smile and laugh and play. The earthy light makes us comfortable.
But when heaven opens and sheds the light of God round about us we become sore afraid. That is natural.
Second, when the light of God’s glory shines round about us we all become thoroughly conscious of our sin. That light is as the judgment Day. It condemns us and torments us. We want to dig a hole and crawl in.
I can understand that Peter said: Lord, depart from me: I am a sinful man.
I can understand it when a member of the church wants to open the door of the Church and go out into the world. He feels unworthy to be a member of the Body of Christ.
You see, beloved, the light of the glory of God is the light of His eternal virtues. That light brings righteousness and holiness to your vision. It searches you, accuses you, condemns you and torments you, for you are a miserable sinner, sinning in all you do.
And so these poor shepherds, even though they were children of God, bend down to the earth and want to obliterate themselves.
Yes, it was night, but the light of the glory of God made it a thousand times more beautiful than the day. There in Ephratha’s fields it was a little bit of heaven.
This heavenly messenger is going to speak.
I have often thought on this. How does it sound upon the ear to hear an angel speak. Paul talks about it: “Though I speak with the tongues of . . . angels . . .”
Yes, there is beautiful speech and song and melody with the children of men, mostly wicked men and women.
The sound of the violin is sweet when played by a master.
But what rot, compared to this heavenly speaker. I can hardly wait to hear the heavenly choirs and music. There are the harps of God.
Well, a little bit of that heavenly beauty came upon the earth when the angel spoke.
First, “Fear riot!”
Beloved, that is the beginning of the Gospel.
When heaven bids you not to fear, you may make the first step to the glories that abide,
It happens to us when we first come to the realization that there is a God and a Savior who seeks you.
Second, “For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
At that time, in that place, to these poor shepherds, after so long a night of darkness, suffering, death and shame!
What wondrous message!
And it is heaven’s God who speaks. It is the TRUTH! An angel does not lie. He is a faithful witness. God had told him what to say, word for word.
And it has been in our Bible for ages. But the bloom and the freshness and the beauty is still there. Every Christmas; what do I say? every day and every hour it charms our hearts.
“Tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.”
Yes, it was night, but a light of everlasting salvation is round about, but now also in these poor shepherds.
For this joy is for them. And for all the people of God.
“For unto, you is born this day in the city of David a And so these poor shepherds, even though they were Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Four thousand years the Church has waited for this day, this hour.
He was promised by Jehovah Himself in the day when Adam and Eve crawled from the underbrush of Paradise, trembling, sore afraid of God.
And this promise was repeated by the nightingales of God: the prophets.
They sang their beauteous song in the nights of Israel. In many forms, in diverse manners, but always the same old and ever new story: I am going to come in the fullness of time, and I will save you from sin, and guilt, and death, and hell. And I will make you all beautiful, like the angels of God.
It is all contained in a name: the Savior, Christ, the Lord!
This Babe which you soon shall see in the stable will do it all, and He shall do it all alone: it is a work of Jehovah.
A Savior: He will die for you, and obliterate all your sin and guilt by dying the eternal death.
Christ: He shall work for you, the work which you left undone.
The Lord: He shall own you body and soul and spirit, henceforth to live unto God for evermore.
And when this angel of the Lord concluded his beauteous speech, he rose into the air, and the trembling shepherds saw the heavenly host, and they heard their song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
In a little while it will be Christmas again, beloved.
Sing, oh, sing of your Redeemer! Amen.