Luke 2:8-9 – …there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
In the old testament, Isaiah has a similar reaction in the presence of the Lord.
Isaiah 6:5 – And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Many who are familiar with this passage in Luke know that the Angels tell the shepherds to not be afraid, that they bring good tidings of great joy. Linus, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” gives what I think is the sweetest version of this event in our culture. Sweet news though it is, I grew up thinking that the shepherds were freaking out simply because the faced the unknown.
I now believe that the fear these men felt was the fear an employee who had been embezzling funds would feel if an FBI agent appeared unexpectedly in his office, only multiplied by an infinite amount. In Isaiah’s encounter, the prophet – who had dedicated his whole life to serving God – recognized instantaneously his wretched, sinful condition once exposed to the glory of God.
God’s glory exposes the hidden crevices where our wickedness is hidden. God’s angelic messengers bring with them that penetrating power. Like an enemy combatant who sits in a ruined fortification with an empty rifle, the sudden sight of Marines freezes his blood. Doom crushes his heart.
Mankind knows that it is at war with God. We fool ourselves for a while as we busy ourselves with daily living. We do our deeds both kind and cruel and somehow deceive ourselves into thinking our kindness is counted and cruelties forgotten. Because of the nature of the warfare, we do not recognize the whistling of the artillery overhead, though hospitals, battlefields, and cemeteries are constant reminders of sin’s curse. We turn our face away, but our false oblivion changes nothing.
Then God’s glory appears, and whether a prophet or a shepherd the Glory of God pierces you and you know you are unspeakably wicked by contrast. Doom is here. All you can do is tremble and await.
“Do not be afraid” His agent says. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy” His herald proclaims. God’s justice will be satisfied, but not by your doom, but by His son, who lies in a manger just a few miles away. Just as the old prophet’s sins were taken away by the burning coal, God’s Son has come to take away the sin of the world. God’s Glory will still illuminate the heart, but instead of doomful wickedness it will only reveal the perfect cleanliness of His Son if we will only surrender to Him.
Glory to God in the Highest indeed.