Hark, the Herald Angels!
KJV Luke 2:8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The angelic announcement speaks to both the simplicity and complexity of the birth 8
Simple shepherds are the recipients of the announcement
The shepherd occupation was generally looked down upon among Jews of that day. They were barred from the inner court of the temple. It is probably fair to conclude shepherds would be more open to going to a stable or cave to worship a king. Perhaps they had a genuine Messianic hope as opposed to the religious leaders of the day.
This fits the whole tenor of humility of the account. We don’t even know their names.
The cradle of Christianity is not part of an exclusive club.
Sacrifice for sin is the implied subject of the announcement
Perhaps they were tending the temple flock to be sacrificed. The language “the” flock may suggest this (or just that it was their specific flock). If so, the not so subtle announcement of angels would have been an indication that their sacrifices were no longer needed! The blood of animals never saved. And the one true sacrificial Lamb was here – Jesus. NAU John 1:29The next day he (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! NAU Hebrews 10:4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The shepherds were going about their normal routine
Apparently they were camping out under the stars just outside of Bethlehem. However, at other times they were in walled huts with or without roofs.
Sheep were particularly vulnerable to danger at night. Thus the shepherds took turns at night watch.
Of course, we now know what they were soon to discover; this night was not business as usual!
By the way, it was probably not winter (our December). In fact, Christmas wasn’t generally even celebrated until 336 AD. If Christ’s birth was acknowledged, it was normally in conjunction with the feast of Epiphany on January 6, the supposed date of Christ’s baptism or other various commemorations. Some (not all) Eastern churches still observe Jan 6 today. In 336 the Western church chose December 25 in an attempt to coopt the dated on which pagan festivals were held to honor the sun. So, most Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on Dec 25. Previously many dates particularly in March, April, or May were favored. These are likely closer to the actual time of his birth.
The angelic announcement contained helpful details and heralded incredible truths about the birth 9-12
The announcement was a spectacular display 9
The angel is not identified. Because of Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharis and Mary previously, he very well may be the unnamed angel here. Note that the article “the” (KJV) is not in the text, therefore this is not a reference to the angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ).
The angel appeared quickly and suddenly stood before them (not suspended in the air).
The overall effect was as a bright blinding light in the darkness of the night. The term is “glory” (δόξα - doxology). Many believe this was the shekinah of glory of the OT and thus represented the very presence of God. And also that the star that lead the magi to Bethlehem was as also the shekinah.
Because the announcement was accompanied by this shinning brightness in the heavenly sky, they shepherds were terrified. Literally it is, “they feared great fear” (ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν). Can you picture the scene? But such as response need not be solely because of physical awe. This is similar to Mary’s fearful perplexity when she was informed of her pregnancy (read Lk 1:29-30). Ah, the mystery of God ways and plan of redemption. Fright is certainly understandable!
The announcement ultimately banishes all fear 10
Note the imperative, “fear not” (φοβεῖσθε). How could the angel make such a demand? Doesn’t this seem unreasonable? Perhaps he knew that the birth was the great emblem of God’s eternal love. Perhaps he knew what John later penned, NAU 1 John 4:18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. Wow!
But not to worry, the angel explains why they need not fear (“Behold for” -ἰδοὺ γὰρthe “behold is pregnant with excitement = Look! See!):
The announcement is about the gospel. “Good news” is the verb often used for declaring the “gospel” (εὐαγγελίζω).
The announcement is about joy, the antidote to fear. The object or content of the good news is “joy”, indeed, mega or “great joy”.
The announcement shows that God keeps his promises. It is directed to “all the people”. Note the KJV mysteriously leaves out the article. This is small but significant detail. The coming of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God made a promise to his people to send a redeemer to spiritually deliver them (see Isa 59:20 et al). Mary knew this (Lk 1:55).
The announcement includes key facts about the birth 11 (some content is now given ὅτι)
The birth just recently happened – “today”
The birth took place not far away in the “city of David”. This reference had more significance to the shepherds than “Bethlehem” because they were familiar with the Messianic promises made to David. The mention of the ancient name would cause them to recall the prophet’s identification of Bethlehem in Micah 5:2ff.
The birth was a natural birth like any other (the use of “born” τίκτω). The miraculous facet was the conception, not the birth.
The designations ascribed to the baby speak volumes. The shepherds are given huge theology by these one word descriptions. Remember, the rightful focus of the whole narrative. Don’t miss this.
Savior. This is the same declaration made by Mary in Lk 1:47, “my spirit has rejoiced in God, my savior”. Simon marveled, “my eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:30). Matt records that, “they shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sin”. This speaks of the baby’s deity. He is the one who performs the mighty act of spiritual redemption that results in eternal safety.
Christ. This is a direct reference to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Anointed One.
Lord. The baby is indeed a king. Indeed, he is the divine ruler; the sovereign one. The master. The compassionate dictator. The royal king. We have one obligation to him – bow the knee.
Can you grasp that these lofty titles are being ascribed to a little helpless baby boy! They are all divine titles! Little Jesus is God, the God-man.
The announcement identifies the birth place 12
The angel pointed them in the right direction. The text calls this information a “sign” in the sense of a signal or an indicator. Not unlike our road signs.
They should look for “a baby wrapped in clothes lying in a manger.” So, there probably were not a multitude of baby boys just born in Bethlehem. And probably none to be found in a manger rather than a cradle in a residence.
The cloth was a common piece folded up to wrap the baby in. Not a burial cloth.
The angelic announcement culminates with praise to God 13-14
A heavenly choir composed of angels bursts into view 13
The choir suddenly appears. This must have been a spectacular sight.
The number of angels who appeared with the one angel is not known. “Multitude” is simply the term for a “great number.” The night sky was apparently filled with this choir
The term, “host”, normally refers to an army! This is a thunderous scene: one angel on the ground directing a sky full of other angels.
So, this heavenly choir army praising God by shouting or singing. I like to think these were musically trained angelic angels! We are not told many details but it seems safe to conclude that this wasn’t a staid Baptist worship service!
All this for the benefit of a few shepherds. Apparently this spectacular scene was not viewed by others.
However, the heavenly choir deflects all attention toward God 14
So, what were the lyrics? Two lines (I have changed word order to suit English): The English phrases are easily compared…
God is due all glory 14a
Literally it is “glory to God (dative of reference) in highest”.
Glory is the same word as in v 9 (doch) sounds like doxology = praise. ”. It basically means an appearance of brightness, radiance, or spender that is the revealed presence of God or of God Himself (multiple lexicons). In the LXX it is clearly used this way (See Ex 16:10, 24:16, 33:22; Num 14:21, etc). This is the OT Shechena – the glory of God.
Thus it might be argued that the angels were referring to the presence of God Himself on that “holy night” rather than solely the blinding light in the dark sky.
But, I prefer to see it both ways, in fact three ways. The glory of God appeared in Bethlehem at the stable as Jesus was born, himself being God and thus God’s glory was present (as v 9 may indicate). In consequence the night sky on the hillside surrounding Bethlehem was ablaze with the blinding light of God’s glory emanating from the cradle. So the angelic choir responded by shouting “glory to God in the highest”
So, glory in high places is ascribed to God. The entire heavens shine forth with glory to God at this moment. The birth of Christ is a time for praise to God. But please remember that the very purpose of our existence as is to bring glory to God.
NAU Ephesians 1:11also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
NAU Revelation 4:11"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
True peace comes only from God 14b
“Peace” is a state of rest and wellbeing. Of course, that is precisely what salvation is all about. That is also what reconciliation between people and nations is all about.
Literally it is “peace in men of good pleasure upon earth.” Because “men” is objective genitive therefore the enmight better be “among” men to convey that “men” is objective genitive. And it is therefore better rendered something like, “peace among men with whom He is well pleased” (similar to ESV, NAU, NIV).
So, the birth of Jesus does not bring peace to the entire world of men. Peace is not everywhere! In fact we may argue that Christ’s coming brings just the opposite – strife and turmoil (Mat 10:34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword).Only those who are the objects of God’s favor can experience God’s peace and thus give him glory (both the peace of God and peace with God). And only Christ can bring lasting peace between men.
NAU Colossians 1:20and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
NAU Acts 10:36"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)--
So if angels can raise their voices in a great doxology, why not us? Why are our voices so silent?
Dare we hear with renewed understanding the familiar carol penned by John Francis Wade so many years ago?
O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels!
Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above.
Glory to God - All glory in the highest!
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be the glory giv'n;
Word of the Father, Now in the flesh appearing,
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.