“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
We don’t talk that way nowadays. We might say “very frightened” or “extremely afraid” or even “terrified.” We don’t say “sore afraid.”
So, maybe that’s reason enough to still use those old words to describe the reaction of the Bethlehem shepherds to what they saw in the sky that first Christmas night. This was a special level of fright. This was a shake-in-your-boots fear. When the barrier between heaven and earth was suddenly breached to allow the bright glory of the Lord to spill through, those who saw it were traumatized.
They were sore afraid.
This isn’t the first time the glory of the Lord appeared to humans on earth. Not the first time it had a dumbfounding effect. But it was the most wonderful of all the occurrences.
It signaled that the glory of the Lord God would be shared by mortals. No message given by God was more important than that.
On Christmas Eve, of Bethlehem we sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
It may seem strange to hear that the one event evoked such opposite reactions. Yet, it still happens today, doesn’t it?
Those who recognize that baby in Bethlehem is the Son of God who came to rescue them rejoice to celebrate his birth. This is what the people of God in the Old Testament had been hoping for, desperately waiting for. This is what we thank God for.
On the other hand, those who dismiss the mercy of the Lord God and stand with the powers of darkness react differently. They may wish others “Happy Holidays!” but not “Happy Holy Days!” They dismiss as fake news the report that the Son of God was born a human. They scoff at the name “Emmanuel.”
The thought of God being here with us is frightening to them. It should be. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).
The reality of Christmas can make those who oppose him sore afraid.
The WWII Battle of the Bulge can serve as a comparison event.
When the German army smashed through the thin American lines on December 16, 1944, American forces were surrounded. They shivered in cold and fear before the enemy onslaught. Many were wounded. Many died.
Dense fog prevented the resupplying of ammunition and food from the air. Aircraft that could have provided suppressing firepower stayed grounded day after day after day. They prayed for relief.
It came on Christmas Day. The skies cleared. American planes swooped down. Patton’s Third Army and the 2nd Armored Division plowed through the snowdrifts to join the attack.
That Christmas was a day hoped for by Americans even as it was a day feared by the Germans.
For the Wehrmacht, the road ahead would bring only hardship, surrender, and defeat.
Yet, the breakthrough of the rescuers in the Ardennes Forest in 1944 was nothing compared to the breakthrough of the angels over the fields of Bethlehem.
The heavenly host was not a threat to those shepherds. The bright light in the dark sky meant help had arrived.
For the people on God’s side, not the enemy’s side, there must be joy. God is with us! He is on our side. He is not against us. The Babe in Bethlehem is Emmanuel. He came to rescue us.
Makes no difference now whether some things go against us. At times, setbacks, heartaches, and disappointments may cloud the skies over our heads. But they will not last.
The breakthrough of grace and goodness will surely come. Our Christmas Day will dawn.
We will not fear what the Lord brings into our life.
We will not be sore afraid.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God and our human Brother. You broke through the clouds of fear and dread to shine into our lives with your glorious light. Keep us in your care. Fill us with your joy. Deploy your angels to keep watch. Send the Holy Spirit to banish fear. Now and evermore. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.