Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:9 NRSV
Here we have a group of shepherds, trained and experienced to kill wild animals, afraid of one angel. Somehow, I don’t think this is a small cherub with rosy cheeks and a golden harp. This is more like the vision that Isaiah had when he saw the Seraphs in the temple (Isaiah 6). Those seraphs were serpentine creatures, associated with fire and sprouting three pairs of wings! This gospel does not describe the angel but the terror it gives the shepherds clues us in to how disturbing this messenger’s appearance was. We tend to think of angels as rather tame, comforting and kind creatures. For us, they are guardians of a sort, protecting humans from harm, flitting about, watching over small children, teenage drivers and the faithful. They are awesome but beautiful to see.
But the Christmas story gives us a totally different version that we often miss. Just as God’s nature is truly awesome, and to be in God’s presence is to quake in fear, so God’s own messengers are just as terrifying. No sling shot or club that would bring down a growling mother bear would be in any way effective against these creatures of our Lord and King. In this birth story, we, like the shepherds, meet our fears head-on and are forever changed.
God, thank you for your life-changing gift. Shake us up Lord, even while you assure us of your love and mercy. Amen.
Copyright 2008 Amelia G. Sims