An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9).
They were caught in the open on unprotected fields. The guards they had posted were watching for threats on the ground. They had given little thought to the terror that would descend from the skies. They were unprepared for incoming angels.
We look back on that field outside of Bethlehem that night with pleasant thoughts. We dress up our children up as shepherds for Christmas programs. We sing of joy and peace.
We forget about the terror.
The baby in the manger was no doubt cute. Though he was Lord of all, he appeared helpless. The one deployed to announce his arrival was neither cute nor helpless. His appearance left those shepherds shell-shocked. It lit up the sky in a blaze of glory.
“The glory of the Lord” has distinct characteristics that cause shock and awe. Blazing fire is part of it. Moses saw it in a bush that did not burn up. Israelites saw it on Mount Sinai amidst lightening and smoke. They saw it a fiery cloud that led them through the wilderness.
It was a manifestation of the presence of the holy eternal God—and the sight was always fearful to those infested with sin. It was more frightening than an incoming mortar round would be. It contained more power than an atomic bomb would have.
But it was designed to protect, not to destroy. Every time the Bible reports its appearance, it is tied to a rescue mission from heaven. The holy God comes with overwhelming force against his enemies. The display of his power is to assure his people.
So it was on that Christmas Eve. Accompanying the squadron of angels was the glory of the Lord. It would consume his enemies without harming his own. Not one person would fall victim to friendly fire.
Many who have seen combat have seen fire in the night sky that heralded incoming weapons of death. They remember the feeling of terror.
Far different to see these angels coming in! They posed no danger! They were friendlies. They came to announce that the war between God and mankind was over.
The report of incoming angels warms our Christmas hearts. Their good news is meant for us. We remember their words. We echo their song:
“To God on high be glory! And peace on earth to men.”
We wish we could have seen those angels and heard their songs.
One day we will.
Lord of glory and Savior of mankind, the holiness of your presence can terrify us. The sight of your angels can shock us. But you remind us that holy angels are commissioned to help and befriend us. Angels have brought the good news that shall be to all people. They were the first to announce the Savior’s birth. They will be the first to greet us as leave this earth forever. We wait for incoming angels. We celebrate Christmas with their song. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military