And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
(Luke 2:8-18, NIV)
Somewhere, buried among often forgotten verses of Christmas hymns and carols, are some true treasures that we need to hear more often. One of those came out a week ago during our morning worship hour. I've been in an "Advent" frame of mind for some time based on what we've been reading at home, recent messages, and a host of other reasons. Then, we sang a verse of "Angels from the Realms of Glory" that I had never heard before.
In fact, it wasn't even the entire verse; it was just one phrase. I had to do a search on the Internet when I got home just to confirm what I had seen and sung. The phrase? Quite a simple, but powerful one ... "Justice now repeals its sentence." One word came to my mind as I thought about this verse ... clemency. It's a legal term denoting a reduced or cancelled punishment for a crime committed. And that's just what happened. The angels certainly knew it that night when they announced it to shepherds.
I find it an amazing thought. Something we rightly deserved, based on the Law, has been withheld. And not only that, it has been completely removed - repealed - never to be held over our heads again. That's precisely what the angel told them, "A Savior has been born to you." This was the message of hope they had longed for because without a savior, there is no hope. Without a savior, there is no clemency.
And so, these lowly shepherds considered what they had heard and went into the town to a stable. There, they laid eyes on their Messiah and witnessed for themselves the result of promises made long ago. In the form of a humble peasant child, God had come to Earth. In the unlikely place of a stable, somewhere that nobody would question the presence of such un-noteworthy a crowd, "Justice repeals its sentence". A baby, just hours old, lying in a feed trough and wrapped in cloths, with only the dim glow of perhaps an oil lamp is the fulfillment of the ages. He is the Christ!
I noted a few posts ago that the Great Story turns on the entrance of Christ into humanity. And, while we certainly know that the journey beginning in the manger must pass through the cross and exit at the empty tomb, we shouldn't rush away from this humble stable so quickly. Here, with no further angelic announcement, no bright lights, and no signs or wonders, we meet our Savior for the first time face to face. The warmth of a newborn conveys the love of the Father in a new and special way. We would do well to pause in reverence and gaze into His face once again.
My own Crooked Path finds life and purpose in those humble beginnings. I don't want to rush away, even to the completion of the salvation work some three decades later. I want to pause, especially at this time of year, to consider the humility and wonder that came together that night so very long ago. And I rejoice in the clemency granted by my Father. The sentence is repealed, never again to be mentioned. Now that's what I call a Savior.
- Have you stopped to consider the shepherds and what they saw? Can you imagine your reaction were you in their place?
- Have you taken the time to pause and reflect upon the newborn Savior, or are you in a hurry to move forward to the end (or something else)?
- When you consider God coming in this most humble way, what do you feel? Can you rejoice with the angels at the thought of a Savior who has come to grant clemency?