Shepherds hear the angels’ message
The gospel of Luke says there were shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. What were they doing there at night? Shepherds placed their flocks in stone ‘folds’, round enclosures about the shoulder height of a man. Each shepherd in the surrounding fields would bring his flock there at night. The folds had a single gate, which made it easy for shepherds to control the animals during the long dark nights.
There may not have been wolves in the area, but there were wild dogs who harassed unprotected sheep.
According to Luke, there were several shepherds gathered there that night. These shepherds were startled by the appearance of some form of heavenly manifestation, an apparition that the gospels call an ‘angel’.
What exactly the gospels meant by this word we do not know. Paintings usually show angels as winged young men; they do so because they want to convey the idea of angels as spirit-beings who served God by conveying messages from him to human beings.
Whatever this being was, it terrified the shepherds. So the angel’s first message was one of reassurance: ‘don’t be afraid. I bring good news’.
Then this ‘being’ told them that the Messiah, the Christ, had just been born.
Its next words were as astonishing for them as its presence was, contradicting everything they expected the Messiah to be. This Christ was an ordinary baby, born in a nearby village and wrapped in swaddling clothes, just like any other newborn peasant boy.
The being’s astonishing message was backed up by a further vision: the sky filled with light and sound, as if the whole of Creation was rejoicing. The shepherds received a second message: God was glorified by what had happened, and peace would be given to people who kept God’s laws – all people.
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