Whatever else we would say about Luke’s story of the angels and the shepherds, it’s definitely memorable. But less clear is the point. Why did it happen? What does it mean?
I’m going to argue that there’s something huge going on here. I’m going to argue that this event was a teaser—a short preview of what the Messiah would do. It’s proof that someday people and angels will worship side by side, giving glory to this newborn child. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Angels can worship too.
Let’s start by turning the camera around from how we normally view the scene. Why do we always see it completely from the viewpoint of the humans—the shepherds? Look at it not from the view of the men on the ground, but the angels in front of them. Several things come to mind:
- Angels are not omniscient. They learn.
- Angels are not passionless. They have emotions (Luke 15:10).
Now put that into the grid of what happened here. Angels were there when Satan fell. Angels saw the good creation and man’s subsequent fall into sin. For thousands of years they watched people wallow in the filth and horror of sin.
And yet they were also sent to deliver promises—the hope of a redeemer who would finally deliver mankind from death and sin (Gen 18:1–15; Heb 2:2). They worshipped the Son in heaven’s throne room for thousands of years (Dan 7:10). Then, one day, the glorious Son takes flesh and is conceived in the body of a Jewish woman. An angel delivers the news to Mary (Luke 1:26–38). Nine months later, angels are commissioned to share the grand announcement. After millennia of waiting, hoping and watching, the horror of this wicked world will come to an end. The promise has arrived. The Messiah is here.
Are these angels dispassionately relaying information like heavenly robots? Or should we not remember Peter’s words that the angels also longed to look into God’s masterful plan? They also marveled and wondered at the Old Testament prophecies about “Christ’s sufferings and the glory to follow” (1 Pet 1:10–12). Take even a cursory look at their words, and you’ll discover that the announcement comes straight from the Old Testament!
What are these angels doing? They’re worshipping! They themselves are in awe at what God has starting doing and they can’t help crying out with joy.
Shepherds Join the Heavenly Worship
Now consider the shepherds. Classic art, Sunday school papers, and scenic calendars all get it wrong:
- The angel is not far away. The wording is that the angel stood beside them or right with them, implying that they are actually quite close.
- The light is shining “all around them.” On a dark hillside, in a day without artificial light, shepherd and angel stand in blazing light.
- After the initial announcement, an entire multitude appears. We don’t know how many, of course, but Jesus talked about twelve legions or 72,000 angels. That could qualify. Whatever the case, it’s a whole crowd, praising, singing, rejoicing—a small teaser of what these angels have been doing in heaven since the beginning.
To this point in the story we can be shocked by the contrast. A throng of heavenly beings before a few shepherds? A dark, quiet hillside suddenly transformed by blazing light? The angels have come from the grand splendor of heaven and now they stand in the squalor of a sin-sick earth.
Heaven Meets Earth
And yet this contrast—heaven vs. earth—stands at the center of the story. It’s in the poetry that the angels sing.￼
Heaven has been full of glory for thousands of years. Earth has been a horror of sin and its consequences. Until now. Because through the Messiah, at last, peace has come.
We discover that this brief interchange on a hillside in Galilee had much more significance than we might think. The angels shared the news, but just as important they also worshipped together with the shepherds.
Remember the glory that shone around them? That glory didn’t come from the angels like we assume. Read closer—“the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” For a few minutes, that Galilean hillside became a foretaste of great things to come. For a few minutes, angels and men stood together in awe at the miraculous thing God was doing for planet earth.
What’s the Point?
One more response awaits. We can notice a pattern in how both the angels and the shepherds responded.￼
Not only did shepherds worship with the angels, but they even responded the same way.
- Those who receive the good news…
- Must go and tell others.
- Then return yourself and worship.
And this pattern becomes an imperative to every reader. You’ve received the message. You’ve heard the good news. The hope of planet earth has finally come. This Christmas season, rejoice in awe together with the angels at what God has done. Tell anyone you can about this salvation that He has sent. And then fall before Him yourself and worship.