Nights get long when you’re a shepherd in the land of Judea. Sure, there’s the occasional wolf that has to be dealt with. But between those rare moments of sheer terror are weeks of just watching the stars and talking to your fellow sheep-herders about life.
So when the Bible account says that a certain group of these men were “afraid” as all of a sudden a bright light shone around them and they saw an angel of the Lord, it’s most likely an understatement. What this angel told them was even more absurd. The long awaited savior who would deliver their nation from Roman oppression had been born that night. “And this will be a sign to you,” the angel said, “he’ll be in diapers and lying in a farm animal’s feed bin.”
The signs of God’s presence rarely come as I expect. Rather than giving me the winning lottery numbers, He takes the form of a fellow human desperately in need of a cup of cold water or an encouraging word – and a friend who gives the same to me. Instead of being impressed with my valiant efforts, He tells me to be still and know that He is God. When I think that what I need is the leader of a powerful army, He shows up as a helpless newborn.
We read that the shepherds then saw a whole host of angels before making a bee line to the place where the child was. No doubt their lives were never the same after that extraordinary night. The savior in the barn has that effect on people.