8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
ANOTHER PROMISE FULFILLED
Why did the angel announce Jesus birth to shepherds? Given the resources of heaven there could have been a spectacular announcement, a public event. To find an answer we need to go back to the history of ancient Israel. There we discover a prophet in Israel, Samuel, looking for a king and finding him, the boy David, keeping sheep. In Ezekiel 34 we read of the rise another David, a new and perfect king— a shepherd-king. The announcement of Jesus’ birth to shepherds symbolized this. Their poverty and lowly state illustrated the way God so often uses the lowly, instead of the powerful, to fulfill his purposes.
So it was that in the ordinary course of these shepherds’ nighttime duty, an angel, sensitive to their fear (2:9), announced good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. Good news was the ceremonial term usually associated with the announcement of the birth of a son to the Roman emperor. The good news here has its origin in God. Its purpose is to bring great joy (compare 1:14) for all the people.* Furthermore, the cause of the good news and the joy was the birth in the city of David of one who is Savior, Christ and Lord (2:11). The shepherds are not told the baby’s name, but they are introduced to his royal heritage and office.
Titles: Savior in the Old Testament generally refers to God’s work in rescuing his people in times of need (for example, Psalm 25:5; Isaiah 25:9). The title Christ means anointed one: the baby is anointed as kings were anointed. Mary’s son is of royal descent, being of David’s house and born in David’s town. The baby is born to be king, a king who saves or rescues his people and brings peace. This is a special kind of King, though, because the Greek word Christ is the translation of the Hebrew term Messiah. The Messiah was the expected ruler and rescuer of Israel, who would be the definitive, perfectly just and powerful King. We also hear the prophetic words of Isaiah 9:1–7 that announced: Unto us a child is born, a Son is given… Further, the title Lord, is striking. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), which was the most commonly used version of the Hebrew scriptures in Jesus’ day the word Lord is most frequently used to translate the name of God, YHWH. The title Lord set the scene for what was to follow. Here was a baby full of exceptional promise. Would he realize his potential and actually fulfill all these expectations?
The angel authenticated his words with a sign. The shepherds would find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (2:12). New revelation from God is often accompanied by signs. But the sign here is a conundrum. The baby is of royal blood, born to be king and yet he would be found wrapped in simple clothing, lying in a cattle feeding-trough. What a sign it is. Humanity has always expected royalty to have the trappings of royal heritage from birth. This king is so different – he is born into a world of poverty.
Glory to God. With these words the angel, together with a large assembly of angels burst into the night sky, singing praises to God (2:13). It was the testimony of the supernatural world, and of the members of God’s court and army, to the birth of the baby. The contrast of the shepherds carrying out their work in the darkness of night and the angels doing their work in the brilliant light of God’s glory, could not be more vivid. Glory to God in the highest, they sang, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased (2:14). Three themes are set in parallel: Glory and peace, highest and earth, and God and men and women with whom he is pleased. The supernatural realm echoes with joy and honor at the outward manifestation of God’s love (glory). Now everyone to whom God comes can experience the reality of the peace they long for, the comfort of His love as their Father, and the glory of His rule as their King.
You may want to consider:
- the context of the announcement to the shepherds;
- the content of the announcement;
- the significance of the titles, savior, messiah, lord.
Let me encourage you to pray:
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.
- Comments on the text of The Gospel of Luke are adapted from, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012 ↩