The story of the shepherds and angels is set at night, in the dark and quiet. I don’t mean Lawrence nighttime dark and quiet with streetlights and traffic noise in the background. Or even rural dark and quiet with the glow of the house and the hum of heater and appliances. These shepherds were in the midst of first century pastoral dark and quiet. Dark. Quiet.
Then, suddenly, light and singing. Can you imagine? It’s no wonder the first words out of the angel’s mouth are: “Do not be afraid.”
The angel choir brings good tidings of great joy for all people! But the fear comes first, and then the shepherds listen to the song of Good News. And then they go and experience this Good News. And then they go out singing the Good News themselves.
It is the Christmas story. Yes. And the Easter story. And the story of the Church for century after century. Of course, it doesn’t always happen in a tidy twelve verses, and it doesn’t always follow in nice chronological order.
When I was considered for ordination, someone asked when I was saved. And I suppose, were I one of the shepherds, I could have said, “Dec. 25, 0 AD/BC, when the angels sent me and my pals to that stable and I looked baby Jesus in the face.” And I suppose lots of people today can answer that question, can name a specific place and time when they heard and responded to the Good News in a dramatic, life-altering way.
But I couldn’t–and still can’t–point to THE moment that my fear faded enough for me to listen to the Good News; THE moment when my feet carried me into the presence of Christ; THE moment when I went into the world glorifying and praising God. For me, it’s not a matter of having been saved. It’s a matter of being saved–each day. Over and over. Weaving in and out of the fear, with the song of Good News breaking through the static in little bursts of grace.
Of course, the song of Good News might not be a song at all. Whatever urges us into the presence of Christ. Whatever sends us running to the babe in a manger, to the foot of the cross, where we see the almighty God made vulnerable in love for us. That is the Good News.
Along with those shepherds who were watching their flocks by night so long ago, we share the privilege of hearing the Good News. We share the privilege of encountering the living Christ.
We share the privilege of going into the world with a holy song in our hearts, with words of glory, words of praise, words of Good News on our lips. Thanks be to God!