Surprised by an Angel… and the Call to Tell the Story!

Nearly everyone loves to hear a good story. Movies, novels, poems, and digital versions of it all, invite us to become a part of the action or the suspense, or the romance, or the journey. Most stories we read or watch or listen to come and go. They may touch us or speak a bit; but they are easily filed away somewhere dusty and hard to find. Some stories are grab our hearts and our imagination. We identify with the people or the crisis they face and how they survive.

Then, there is the story that comes along once in a lifetime. Not only does it capture our imagination – it changes our lives. We look back on this rare story, the characters and what they experienced, and we realize that what happened meets us right where we live, it changes how we see life, and that story redefines who and, more importantly, why we are.

That’s the story the sheepherders found themselves a part of over 2000 years ago on the hillside overlooking the town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-20 are the verses that, surprisingly, make up an assignment my high school teacher at NMBHS way back when had me memorize and recite (yes, that was another day.)

It’s the story of Joseph and his betrothed wife Mary, their trek to Bethlehem, the birth of God’s one and only son, Jesus, and a bunch of unwary sheepherders who became a part of the Story of stories.

1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

This baby, who is both King and Savior, was born in perhaps the most available and approachable place in the town – in a stable around the corner from a hostel, just shouting distance from the streets of the town. God chose to send His Son, fully human and fully God, to be born where word would get out. And this prepared the town for what happened next. And, this is when the sheepherders are invited into the story.

8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. 

The Good New story met the sheepherders right where they lived. And it began with the herders who drew the night watch. While their partners caught up on sleep, an angel appeared right in the middle of their conversations. And this angel had just come from the presence of the Father to bring the news about the Son. And the glory of God remained.

And they were terrified. They were used to fighting off wild animals or climbing down the cliffs to rescue a lamb. But, an angel! How many times in the Bible did God show up through His presence, through a vision, or through an angel’s visit – They were scared beyond words. And the answer: Don’t be scared! God met these sheepherders right where they lived.

  11 “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

If the angel’s visit was at first terrifying, the message that he brought was liberating. As good Jewish sheepherders, they heard this message through all they knew about Lord God of Israel.

  • Good news means freedom.
  • Messiah and Lord means salvation.
  • And if you throw in King David, they understood they would be God’s people again, under the rule of His King.

The message from the throne room of God through this single angel literally changed who they were. Sure, they remained sheepherders. But this Good News brought the promise of…

  • Peace that comes with freedom from the oppression of the enemy.
  • Hope that comes with the promised Messiah.
  • Celebrative Joy that comes with being together as God’s people ruled by His King.

And whether in response to the Good News being proclaimed on the hillside or in response to the faith and joy of the shepherds, the worship of the heavens broke through into the physical realm, and…

13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This was more than the sheepherders could contain and, by now they were all together on the hillside echoing the same rejoicing. They had to see it for themselves.

15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

There in a stable for animals, the greatest expression of God’s love slept. The message propelled the shepherds to check it out for themselves and discover if the Good News was really the Good News. And it was. And it changed both who and why they were. They had to tell others and fanned out through the streets of the town telling anyone they saw that Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord and King was born – in a stable, just around the corner, right where anyone could find Him.

The Good News met the shepherd right where they lived, and the truth of the message of Christmas transformed who they were and became the reason for why they lived. God’s great Story intersected their story and surprised them and transformed them.

  • This Christmas – surprise you with His peace, His love, His joy, His hope. He is God near to us.
  • His Good news meets us where we do life.
  • He invites you to approach Him, come to him – with fears, with broken plans and promised, with empty and dead spots in our lives.
  • And he speaks to you right now – no fear except the awe of a Savior with unchangeable love, no loneliness or emptiness because he fills us and comes close, no dead spots because he brings life and mercy.

Welcome again to the Story. Praying it intersects your story frequently in 2020!