In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. (Luke 2:8-9)
The road to Bethlehem must have been dark at night. If the skies were clear, they were filled with a million stars. You might see a flickering campfire where the shepherds sat, watching over the flock. What a picture perfect backdrop for the terrifying appearance of an angel and the glory of the Lord!
That’s right – terrifying. Adam and Eve hid from God (Genesis 3). Isaiah was overwhelmed when he found himself in the throne room of God (Isaiah 6). After a miraculous catch of fish, Peter was frightened to be in the presence of the Lord (Luke 5). And these shepherds were “sore afraid” (King James Version).
A long time before this, God’s people had trembled at the foot of Mount Sinai when the glory of the Lord covered the mountain with a devouring fire (Exodus 24:17). Priests couldn’t enter the tabernacle or later, the temple, when the glory of the Lord filled those places. And now, shepherds trembled with fear as the glory of the Lord descended to a different kind of temple, a baby boy in Bethlehem. For the shepherds, the road to Bethlehem began with fear.
Is there any fear left in Christmas? Perhaps. You just need to know where to look. You won’t see it in the manmade lights and decorations of the season, no matter how big or bright. You won’t see it in the food and the gifts, no matter how extravagant. You won’t find it in the cost of shipping your gifts or traveling to see family.
You’ll find it in God’s word as it grips your heart and soul with both his awesome holiness and his unlimited grace. You’ll find it in a moment of prayer when you realize he’s listening and responding as you cast your cares on him and let him know your requests. In that moment, the Almighty, the Creator and your Father is completely focused on you. You experience it in the sacrament, the most expensive and extravagant meal ever.
As Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for the cross, he prayed, ““Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son” (John 17:1). The glory of God is seen in his innocent suffering and death for us. That’s why he was born. That’s why there is Christmas. And that is why the shepherds were so afraid. They knew, in that moment, just how much God love them.
I hope you do too.
Lord, let me experience some fear as well as joy this Christmas. Let me be overwhelmed with your love as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Amen.