There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying:
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men. —Luke 2:8-14, text from Messiah
Handel tells the best-known part of the Christmas story in four short recitatives sung by a soprano. The music begins quietly on a dark and cold night. Shepherds are gathered around a fire keeping warm, alert to the sounds of the flock and any sign of an approaching predator. These are young men, perhaps only boys, but experienced in putting themselves between the sheep and whatever might endanger them.
And suddenly, they were terribly afraid.
An angel appeared out of nowhere. The bright light of the glory of God illuminated the field. The predictable routines of the long night were shattered. Their youthful bravado melted at the sight of a messenger, who tried to reassure them as they cowered:
Â“Don’t be afraid!Â” he said. Â“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David. And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!Â” —Luke 2:10-12, NLT
As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, this lone angel was joined by an army of angels all praising God together, perhaps chanting, perhaps singing in the way that Handel has interpreted the moment:
“Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest!”
And why was the birth of a baby cause for so much hoopla?
Because this child was the fulfillment of a promise, proof that God keeps his word.
Because this child was a King who would bring light and peace to a dark and troubled world.
Because this child was a Redeemer who would take on himself the guilt of the entire world.
Because this child was God Himself, coming to the world in the most humble of ways, to live among us, and to die for us.
Christmas Eve: A time of excited children and weary adults. A time to remember traditions stretching back to our childhood. A time of great expectations.
And, a time of expectations fulfilled. The baby Jesus was God incarnate: Savior, Messiah, Christ.
Glory to God in the highest! And, Merry Christmas to all.