What makes us terrified?
Feeling stuck—literally or figuratively
Why were the shepherds terrified in Luke 2:9?
I’m going to go with the overwhelming power of sheer surprise and fright at a presence too amazing to comprehend–but it may have involved a few other factors too. It was the middle of the night, they had been going about their job tending sheep. The Bible describes them as shepherds out living in the fields– this was something that was a natural for them as eating and sleeping because they did both within walking distance of their grazing grounds. I imagine that, for however many shepherds were standing there, there were that many different emotions and reactions to the angel’s appearance—night should have meant high-alert for them, making sure wolves weren’t lurking in crags to claim their next tasty lamb chop, warming themselves by the fire, trying to stay awake with conversation. It was dark and cold and suddenly the sky exploded in an incomprehensible cosmic light. Arms went up in alarm and in an attempt to shield eyes, hearts racing and thoughts questioning, “Am I still alive?”
At first it was just one angel (as if that wasn’t disarming enough) that delivered news of the birth of THE Christ, born in the City of David, this baby that these Jewish men had heard about, awaited, but probably didn’t expect to see in their lifetime, but here they were, one of the first to be told of his coming–and the sign that would signify that this in fact was the Christ, this baby king: he would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Right behind this messenger was a host of angels that appeared with him and began praising God—an assault on all the senses and as quickly as they appeared, they were gone—this message and the impact must have gotten through because the shepherds left immediately to go see this promised child in Bethlehem (I wonder who the poor chap was to have to stay behind and tend the sheep while everyone else had the privilege of meeting the Savior of the World?)
How many times in our lives have we been truly, miraculously terrified? I have a friend who ran off the side of the road in to a corn field one night and swears that an angel was the one to get him out to the car and back to safety. I’m sure that experience was terrifying. Personally, I’ve had people who have “appeared” into my life for weeks or months at a time during one of the scariest time of my life, staying only as long as I absolutely needed them, and as quickly as they came, left to go back to their lives.
Even more than that, I think that when God reveals snapshots of what he wants for our lives, exactly what He wants for us to do—it can be terrifying. You look around you and question, “Isn’t there a better time to do this, maybe on Sunday between the last hymn and the invitation?” or, “Is this really about my whole life? Could we maybe talk about this next week, God?” Maybe God needs these moments, or more than that, we need those moments when the hosts in heaven join together, when a donkey talks or a sea is parted or maybe when he appears to us in the form of a baby.
Whatever it is, we’ve got to go (Luke 2:16), got to see (vs.17) and we’ve got tell about this amazing gift (vs. 18).