Tidings of great joy, indeed, I bring!
Was it Gabriel, the angel that standeth before God, who so suddenly burst forth in the darkness of the night from heaven's star-studded canopy, and appeared upon the peaceful scene of the shepherds keeping watch over their flock?
We know not.
But the shepherds, we know, instead of expecting a message of gladness and salvation, instead of rejoicing at the appearance of one of the heavenly spirits that are sent for the service of the elect, were filled with dismay. A great fear filled their hearts. They were sore afraid. The sudden appearance of the heavenly messenger wrought within them a dreadful apprehension of some great evil impending...
They feared with a great fear. Generally it was believed by the people that when one saw an angel it meant death for him, a belief that may be regarded as scarcely more than a popular superstition. But here was more than the mere fear of death. It was the fear which sinful mortals experience when they are brought face to face with the glory of the Most High.
Thus the text explains it.
When the angel of the Lord appeared and stood with them in dazzling splendor of heavenly light, the glory of the Lord shone round about the shepherds. The halo of glory the heavenly messenger brought down with him from on high, the brilliant light that with him pierced the darkness of the night in the fields of Ephratah, was a reflection of the inexpressible glory that radiates from the very face of the Lord. For this angel, whether it was Gabriel as is not improbable, seeing it was he who carried the tidings of the expected birth of Christ and his forerunner to Zacharias and Mary, or whether it was another of the heavenly spirits, came from the very presence of the Lord. From heaven he hailed, where the angels always see the face of our Father which is in heaven. And dwelling in God's heavenly presence, the heavenly glory of the Lord was reflected in their appearance. Even as the face of Moses, the mediator of the old dispensation shone with a similar reflection of the glory of the Lord when he came down from the Mount of God, so this angel suddenly radiated into the darkness of the night an effulgence of divine glory. Where he stood there beamed forth the glory of the Lord! It was a reflection of that glory which, beaming forth from God's presence, is the radiation of the pure beauty of all his virtues, of his holiness and righteousness, of his perfect goodness, and justice. Somehow the heavenly light that shone in the darkness when the angel appeared to the shepherds was vibrant with the very presence of the Lord of glory...
Do we wonder that the shepherds were sore afraid?
To read the full meditation as it originally appeared in The Standard Bearer, click here.