And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, 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 that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Enough of the grim reality of some angel activity. Let’s turn to Christmas.
We read that Zechariah was filled with fear at the sight of the angel. It would certainly have been a surprise to him, knowing that he was, and expected to be, the only person in that holy part of the Temple. The sight of the angel would have been terrifying, like nothing he had seen before. But at least there was only one of them. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host…”
The shepherds also witnessed an angel appearing from nowhere. They had absolutely no idea of what was going on or was about to follow shortly after. These men were well into night vision, with only the moon, if it was out, for light. A starry sky gives no light to the earth. There were no luxuries such as candles. The shepherds would only be able to see the sheep they were tending as dark shapes moving against a dark background. They would have to discern the shapes of all of the dangerous animals that might attack the sheep.
And now an angel appears. A radiant, bright angel who had come from the home of brilliant light, and more frightening than forks of lightning hitting the earth. How did the angel appear? Did it creep up and then turn its light on? Hardly! Where did it come from – how can you tell! I expect you are beginning to realise that we know very little about angels’ modi operandi. A spiritual creature does not have to enter or leave a building by the door. He (could there be female angels?) does not have to obey laws of gravity so can be present in any part of space, not just the ground. Mary’s angelic visitor nine months earlier clearly engaged in conversation with her, so does that mean that angels have physical voice boxes? That would be interesting for what the Bible describes as a ministering spirit!
I think we might agree that angels can take on recognisable forms where and as appropriate. Abraham’s three visitors did not arrive in their battle gear, with flame-throwers hanging from their shoulders.
Whatever this angel looked like, the message was succinct. Don’t be frightened, there’s great news – the Messiah has been born. Go and see. The message hasn’t changed much over two thousand years. The Saviour is alive. Come and see.
What does the glory of the Lord look like?
Do angels have a default physical makeup, or do they put on whatever is needed for them to achieve a task?
Father God, the sight of the angel must have been more than the shepherds could process. Would you build in me an awareness of the normally covert working of angels around me, and in my world? Amen.