THE WORD: First to the shepherds

"The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds" by Rembrandt (1634) is an etching in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum. (Public Domain) 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about 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. — Luke 2: 8-11 

What a happy night was this to the poor shepherds, though exposed to the damps and darkness of midnight, and keeping their painful watches in the open field! An illustrious angel, clothed in light which kindled midnight into noon, came upon them, or suddenly hovered over them in the air, and the glory of the Lord, that is, a bright refulgent light, the usual emblem of his presence shone round about them. No wonder the poor shepherds were struck with horror, and overwhelmed at the sight of so glorious a phenomenon. 

When God strikes his people with terror, it is often an introduction to some signal blessing. And they are sometimes made sore afraid, like the shepherds, even with the displays of his glories. The first appearance even of the great deliverer, may seem like that of a great destroyer. But he will at length make himself known as he is—and allay the fears of his people. So the gentle angel cheers and supports the trembling shepherds, “Fear not,” says he, you need not tremble—but rejoice at my appearance; “for behold” observe and wonder, “I bring you” from heaven, by order from its Sovereign, “good tidings of great joy,” the best that was ever published in mortal ears—and not only to you, not only to a few private people or families, not only to the Jewish nation; but good tidings of great joy, “which shall be to all people” to Gentiles as well as Jews, to all nations, tribes, and languages—to all the various ranks of men—to kings and subjects—to rich and poor; to free and slave. Let it circulate through the world, and resound from shore to shore! 

Samuel Davies was a Presbyterian minister and the fourth President of Princeton University from 1759 to 1761. His works are now in the public domain.