THE ANGELS AND THE SHEPHERDS
“And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night-watches over their flocks. And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the Angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people. For this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign to you: you shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12
1. Later in His life, when our Lord was preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, He described the master of the feast as angry with those who had been invited and had refused, and as giving orders that his servants should turn to those in the byways, and should compel them to come in. Such indeed has been His way from the beginning until now; “the poor have the Gospel preached to them”; in the poor rests the true life of the Church; a safe test of the power of the Church in any country is the hold she has upon the poor of that country. And this character of His call was the first He struck on coming into the world. The great and powerful had ignored Him; the busy world had all manner of excuses; so His angels were sent to the shepherds on the hillside, here, as so often afterwards, the first-fruits of His coming.
2. Nor is it to be by some kind of accident that these shepherds are to be called. They are not to wander down the hill and along the road to Bethlehem, and to find the Child on the way. It is possible that the cave was one in which they had often taken shelter; but that was not to be their guide this night. Another principle God would establish; not only would He show that the poor are His special choice, but He would also show that, when He willed it, He is independent of man for the spreading of His glory. He has His ministering angels, sometimes manifesting themselves to simple souls, more often doing their work in hiddenness, because the souls of men are not simple. It is a true instinct which makes us associate angels with little children; for it is the eyes of simple children that best can see them; it is the minds of children that best can understand them, just as it is little children that seem to come nearest to grasping the reality of the Blessed Sacrament.
3. The shepherds “feared with a great fear” at the sight of the Angel of the Lord who stood by them, and at the brightness of God which shone about them; as who would not? But this implies no doubt; it implies the simplicity of children. So they were reassured; and as children they accepted the reassurance. “Fear not,” said the Angel; this is the third time we have heard the words from an angel’s lips. “Fear not, Mary,” Our Lady was told; “Fear not, Zachary,” was said to the priest; and now “Fear not” is said to the shepherds and “all the people.” No wonder that a master-saint has said that the first operation of an angel of light is to calm the human soul and to remove from it fear and unrest. The rest of his message is full of deep meaning. He brings “tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people.” The message is the news of the birth of the “Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord.” And they are shown how and when they shall find Him. And to this day Christmas remains the season of “great joy to all the people.”
Summary Meditation Points:
- The shepherds are the first called to the Crib; consistently with the rest of Our Lord’s practice.
- They are called by the Angel; in great moments God acts independently of men.
- The message is one of great joy; which has been “to all the people” from that day to this.
Art for this post on the angels and the shepherds: Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds, Govert Flinck, 1639, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.