The Angels and the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

The Angels and the Shepherds

8*  Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.d

10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

11* e For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

14* “Glory to God in the highestf and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.


Spiritual – Keeping God’s Word in our Heart

Verse 19 says “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Here Mary provides an excellent model for us.  Whenever we encounter the divine – in His Word, in the Sacraments, In His People – we need to hang on to them.  Don’t let them just pass away and be forgotten.  Instead, we should reflect on them, let them soak in; we should revisit them throughout our day.  This is, perhaps, one of the best models for reading scripture.  We don’t just want to say “I read scripture this morning” but we want to add to that “and it’s been with me all day.”

Spiritual – Responding to the Divine

All things considered, I find this to be a very straight forward reading.  However, I have to hand it to the shepherds.  Their response to the good news was immediate.  They didn’t procrastinate the way I often do.  They didn’t wait for daybreak.  They didn’t say to one another “hey, you guys go check it out while we stay and tend the sheep.”  You might think to yourself “well of course they jumped right on it; they were face-to-face with an angel, surrounded by a multitude of heavenly host, and standing in the light of the Lord’s Glory.”  You might think “Jim, if you were there then you would have hopped right to it too.”  But why should it take that much?  Why isn’t a passing thought like “go read scripture”, “go pray”, or even “go and write” sufficient for me to act right away?

So my prayer response to this passage is that at the slightest whisper from God I might jump to action with the same immediacy as the shepherds that visited the infant Jesus.

Cultural – How Many Angelic Visits?

So, if we’ve been paying attention we notice that the angels have visited three times.  This catches out attention because in Jewish thought different numbers have various significance. In their culture, the number three represents perfect completeness.

Three is the number of Divine persons in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  Jesus’ ministry lasted three years.  Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane that the “cup” would pass him by.  Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus later asked him three times if he (Peter) loved him (Jesus).   There are dozens more examples but you get the idea.

So what can it mean that angels have appeared three times?  Well let’s review what they have said.

  • To Zechariah the angel said “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son … and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God … to prepare a people fit for the Lord. (Lk 1:13, 16, & 17)
  • To Mary the angel said “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son … and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father” (Lk 1:31, 32)
  • To the shepherds the angel said “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2:10,11)

In Hebrew thought the three angelic visits are symbolic of the perfect and complete announcement of the Savior coming into the world.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

One Comment

  1. Ed February 13, 2016 Reply

Leave a Reply