And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
We always knew the stars were beyond counting. We came to learn there were entire galaxies far, far away. But when we put telescopes into space, we were amazed to learn there is much more out there than we imagined and at distances that defy measurements.
Some astronomers believe there are about two trillion galaxies, each averaging some 100 million stars. Altogether, they estimate there are some 400 billion planets out there.
The little blue planet we live on appears as a mere speck in the celestial array. Lifeforms walking around on two legs cannot be detected even from the closest space object, the moon. We must join the psalmist in asking the Creator of all this, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). Surely, we must be insignificant, perhaps irrelevant.
It turns out, we are not. Humans are very much the focus of the Lord God. He knows what they are like. They are defiant. They shake their puny fists at the Ruler of the universe and act as if their opinions mattered. As if he needed their approval.
His response? “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
With a flip of his little finger, he could send this planet and everything on it into oblivion. Far worse, he could punish us in his righteous wrath, as he did the rebellious angels.
Instead, he developed a plan to rescue humans from the consequences of their rebellion. It is an astonishing plan. It entails an almost unbelievable sacrifice on his part.
He will send his Son to be punished in place of those despicable ingrates. For this to happen, the Son of God must take on a human nature. He must be born of a woman.
A special force of angels was deployed to ensure mankind would know when and where this happened. The exact place was chosen long before. We do not know how angels travel. We are aware that they are based in a place called heaven. We recognize that trillions of galaxies and billions of planets lie between their home base and earth. No matter how they traveled or how fast they could get here, they still needed to know the location of their LZ, their landing zone.
We mark it at latitude 31.705791 and longitude 35.200657.
That spot is called Bethlehem in ancient Judea.
Suddenly, the night lit up with a column of light that could appear as fire in the sky. It was shock and awe. The targets, who were shepherds bivouacked in a field, were terrified. Then the voice of the lead angel thundered a message. They were not to fear. They would not be harmed. This was not an attack by a superior force.
This was a declaration of peace!
The basis of the peace was explained. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
His identity could be verified. “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11,12).
Then the scene broke wide open! “Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind’” (Luke 2:13,14 EHV).
Over the ages, angels have been sent on many different missions. Sometimes they brought severe judgment, as did the angel of death to the firstborn in Egypt, or when 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed overnight.
But most often, we learn of angels protecting and rescuing. The mission to Bethlehem on that holy night must have been one of the happiest ones.
The only one better was when some were sent to an empty grave to tell mourners, “He is not here. He has risen. Come see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6).
We remember all this as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of the King of kings that we now can call our brother.
This is the season for remembering. Some of our Christmas joy springs from the past. There have been special people and special times in our lives that we do not want to forget. We recognize they were special gifts from the Savior God.
Best of all, is the memory of the first Christmas. Our feet may not have carried us to Bethlehem on that night, but our hearts have done so. Our eyes may not have peeked into the stable to see the one in in the manger, but our souls have.
We may not have heard the angel voices with our own ears, but the Holy Spirit has carried their words over the expanse of time and space to place them before us.
What was the special message proclaimed by angels on a special mission?
“A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Our reply? “Message received. Glory be to God on high!”
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with you there. Amen.
(Christian Worship 341:3)
Points to ponder:
- Our planet is only a speck in space. What does that tell us?
- Bethlehem was only a dot on a map compared to Jerusalem. What does that tell us?
- In the eyes of high society, shepherds were low class. What does that tell us?
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.