A Humble Witness

The angel tells this unlikely group of men, that the long-awaited news of the Messiah had been fulfilled that very day in the city of David, which was really nothing more than the small, inconsequential village of Bethlehem.

The shepherds in the fields that night so long ago, were simple men. They were not scholars of the law. They were poor men, honest in their duties as hired men. Their faith would have been simple too, uncluttered by the complexities of scholarly studies. We can imagine that they were men of few words, but who in the long solitary silences of the night watch would have stared up at the starry skies and been filled with humble awe. The night silence would be punctuated now and then with nothing more than the bleating of a lamb somewhere in the darkness. Everything would have the comforting sense of the familiar. Yet, there would have been the tension of the watch as well.

But that night was like no other. With the suddenness of a bolt of lightning, an angel of the Lord appeared before these simple shepherds, bright with the glory of the Lord, a brightness like nothing they had ever seen, or imagined, before. We can understand the terrible fear they must have felt at the sudden appearance of this august, holy visitor. Then the angel speaks to them saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2: 10) Maybe we can imagine the tone of that angelic voice, its strong, yet quieting, gentle certitude. Though these men were simple shepherds, they were also faithful Jews. We can believe that they attended synagogue each sabbath and listened to the scriptures being read, and the commentaries on it by the rabbi and the more learned among them. They may not have grasped the more subtle ideas, but though they were simple men, they were not ignorant. They would have been familiar with the prophecies of a Messiah who would bring his saving mercy to the world. They would have hoped for it out of the earnestness of men who knew the meaning of poverty and struggle intimately.

Still, we can also imagine how overwhelming their experience of that holy presence that night would have been. And the news the angel brought was, indeed, Good News. The time had come. The angel tells this unlikely group of men, that the long-awaited news of the Messiah had been fulfilled that very day in the city of David, which was really nothing more than the small, inconsequential village of Bethlehem. And the angel encourages them to go, to see for themselves. They would find him “Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (verses 11 & 12) Then, to cap it all off, these shepherds are suddenly surrounded by a nimbus of indescribably beautiful sound, as a multitude of voices, a heavenly choir, joyfully began praising God singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (verse 14)

Jesus, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, though he is the King of Kings, did not enter the world in a palace, or even in an important city. Those who are the first to hear of the birth, who are invited to be the child’s first visitors, are not royalty or important citizens, rather, they are the lowly, the simple, the unwashed unknown. That gives a unique understanding to the words, “to those on whom his favor rests.” We are not Christians because being so, opens the doors of privilege and power to us. Rather, we follow a Savior who came to save us in our lowliness. We are the lowly, the needy, because we know that we are sinners who are always in need of God’s forgiving and merciful graces. We know that he does not come to us because we are healthy, or because we are great. No, he comes to us because we are broken, fallen, and needy.

During this Advent season, let us reflect on our daily need for the ‘birth’ of Christ into our own hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Let us contemplate our thanksgiving for having been saved by Jesus, the One who knows our weaknesses and loves us despite them. Let us be filled with the same awe that those shepherds knew on that cold winter night so long ago. This is, indeed, Good News. Let us contemplate the infinite love of God that this birth represents, in ever more intimate and personal ways. It is true! God is with us, and for us, in Jesus then, now, and forever. Let our hearts sing with the same joy the heavenly host sang with that cold night so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest..” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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