8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
The message is being heard ever more persistently and urgently. Preachers, teachers, missionaries and evangelists are concerned to impress it on everyone, and even parents with their children. The Bible clearly teaches it, and the distress of nations, increase of natural calamities and acceleration of society's moral degeneration are all signs of its imminence. Jesus Christ the King of kings is coming soon from Heaven to end the world, judge it, and unveil His eternal Kingdom of Glory! - We are the messengers. The whole world is the intended audience. The message is God's, and His Son Jesus Christ is its dead-center target!
God has set a pattern of announcing some of His designs ahead of time rather than just trying to stun people, yet so often seems to catch them by surprise anyway. - Noah warned the population at length to repent and avert certain punishment. Prophets did the same, also spelling-out detailed clues well beforehand of a coming Savior and His saving work. John the Baptist appeared as God's messenger before the fact to both warn and encourage:--> "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." "Repent (in other words)! Ready your hearts for God's coming Kingdom. Someone is coming whose importance and work far outshines me," John said.
There's another such example for our meditation today. The subject-matter includes distinctive messengers and a specially selected audience, but above all the MESSAGE!
THE MESSENGERS (Angels)
(THEIR GENERAL PURPOSE AND WORK)
Although often using the familiar, there are times spotted throughout Bible history when God used and sent special MESSENGERS to people chosen by His grace. - They were the Angels, the designated messengers of Heaven itself:--> God's servants dwelling before His throne in His direct presence without fear or sin, but in holiness and righteousness, shining in perfect innocence. They are ever ready and willing without question to perform any directive that may suit Almighty God.
Their purpose as concerns humanity and this world has been to announce messages from God and, often, to provide very specific instructions to people about what to do. - Appearances were made to Balaam, Elisha, Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph among others.
(THEIR APPEARANCE AT CHRISTMAS)
The Christmas report tells of one Angel of the Lord appearing in great glory at a field in the region of Bethlehem in Judea. - As typifies such visits, he began with the quieting word, "Be not afraid." He was concerned to assure his hearers that his purpose was not evil or destructive, but to deliver good news over a matter of great joy! He spoke the news and then encouraged his audience what they ought to look for and do.
What followed was even more stunning and attention riveting! There appeared suddenly and surprisingly "a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God" because of the message that was given. It must have been an astounding display of glorious pageantry!
THE AUDIENCE (Shepherds)
One of the items that amazes us is the selection of people to whom God's messengers came:--> "Shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night." - They represent one of the humblest and lowest classes of that day.
Although in their earlier history the whole Hebrew nation in general was made up of nomadic herdsmen and those with the largest flocks were the wealthiest, the passing of centuries somewhat shifted the situation. The wealthy still owned the flocks (to be sure), but they hired out their care to uneducated, cheap laborers. - These workers had to pull night-shifts and miss out on comforts enjoyed by city-dwellers. They were toughened against the elements of nature and predators, and they probably lived in a manner comparable to the rough and coarse habits of America's cowboys. Their lives weren't centered on the formal rituals of Jewish religion, nor was there anything noteworthily virtuous about them, yet it was God's gracious choice to first announce the news to a group of them!
Those who saw and heard the joyful spectacle of Angels didn't then just stand around debating and disbelieving their eyes and ears. As a group they acknowledged the event as the Lord's revelation and urged each other immediately:--> "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened!.." They went with haste and found exactly what they had been told.
THE MESSAGE (The Baby's Birth and His Significance)
(ITS IMPORTANCE OVER ALL)
The excitement and joyful praise of the Angels wasn't over themselves or even their being permitted to appear to men, but over God's deed that their message entailed! The shepherds weren't the sole intended audience, but, by their humble circumstances and lives steeped in sin, they illustrate the very thing the first Angel announced:--> that his message of joyful good news is for all people!
The most incredible thing isn't the Angel-messengers appearing or the shepherds being the recipients, but THE MESSAGE ITSELF! "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! --- On earth peace! --- Glory to God!"
God's amazing work in this birth was that His Son, the "Very God begotten of His Father before all worlds," was now joined to humanity in the Body of a Baby! Even this, though, was but the beginning in a long string of events concerning Him that would ultimately secure the salvation and peace announced.
"Christ the Lord" didn't only come to be adored as a cute baby nestling in hay for lack of nicer accommodations. His life was almost immediately endangered as King Herod sought to have Him killed. His family had to escape to Egypt for a time. - He came to His own people and they received Him not. - He was sorely tempted and vexed by Satan at the very outset of His public ministry as a young Man, right after John the Baptist introduced and baptized Him. From then on the Jewish Pharisees sought to silence and put Him to death, especially a couple named Annas and Caiaphas.
They succeeded, bringing Him to trial before Pontius Pilate and another Herod, and stirring up a whole mob demanding that He be crucified. - It happened! He suffered. He died. But it all played right into God's hand, serving the purpose of clinching the Angels' Christmas announcement!
God threatens that "the wages of sin is death." His Word confronts us that "All have sinned and fall short of (His) glory." "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you..." --- But Isaiah foretold long before His birth that the significance of Christ's life would culminate in His death on our behalf:--> "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed. - All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
For His willing submission and unconditional, unfathomably loving sacrifice winning our forgiveness, Christ's God and Father restored His life to Him, raising His Body and exalting Him at His right hand over all creation as King of kings and Lord of lords, and who will come again as Judge over both the living and dead!
ALL that is what's so important about Christmas. There was no room at any of Bethlehem's inns, and Mary's condition being at the point of birth-labor wasn't considered important enough to arrange for decent quarters, -- but ALL HEAVEN couldn't contain the joy and message of Christ's birth! It HAD to burst on the inhabitants of earth, coming first to the local shepherds!
Some 33 years later Angels appeared again, not to society's elite and sophisticated, but to former fishermen and women. The message again centered on Christ, the world's Savior and Lord. "He is not here; He is RISEN!"
And yet once more we're assured of the direct involvement of Angels in human affairs:--> At an Archangel's call and the sound of the trumpet of God, they will accompany Jesus at His return to gather His elect and to cast unbelievers with Satan and his minions into a lake of fire we call "hell." All people on earth will see and know it at once. - Don't be taken by surprise. It has just been announced to you beforehand!
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