December 9 - Messiah - Luke 2:8-11; 13-14

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December 9 - Messiah - Luke 2:8-11; 13-14

There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks 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."

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men."

The first performance of Messiah took place in Dublin, five months after he arrived there.  He used two local choirs and hired a local orchestra; Handel directed the oratorio from the harpsichord.  It was a hit.  So much money was raised that it is said over 140 people were released from debtors prison.  It took ten months and the success of Messiah to give Handel confidence to return to London and ready to support what he called “the Oratorio way.”

This might be one of my favorite passages from the Christmas story.  It is filled with imagery that I cannot help but see in my mind’s eye.

In a quiet field, early one morning, shepherds are gathered around talking quietly while their flocks meander aimlessly, nibbling at whatever bits of grass they find.  One may be leaning on a large rock, relaxed and laughing. Another has come back from wandering among the sheep, ensuring they are fine.  He is leaning on his staff, listening to the stories as they are told.  Another is drawing in the ground, as he illustrates part of the story.  There is a small fire which lights up his face and you can see the winkle in his eye as he waits to deliver the punch line.  A fourth man separates himself just a bit from the activity around the fire, keeping an ear and an eye out for predators.

They have brought a couple of young boys with them this evening, maybe sons or nephews of the men. The boys are learning what must be done to care for the sheep which are the livelihood for their families.  The boys are in awe of the stories they hear, not realizing that one day they will be in the same position and will be relating tales to their friends.  Their faces are bright with anticipation, wondering what the end of the story will be.

All of a sudden, the group of men is shocked by a great light in which they see the form of an angel.  These men had never seen anything like it.  Their lives had been simple and content.  They knew the stars in the sky and the hillsides on which they took their flocks to graze.  They knew the many people in the community where they lived and they knew each other.  These things were constants in their lives, an angel who brought the glory of the Lord to their little gathering was exciting and new.  No longer would they be thinking about the stories being told, but about the story which was just beginning.

Then the angel said, “I bring you good news. In Bethlehem, the Savior of the world, the Messiah has been born.”

Before those words could sink into their hearts, a great company of angels filled the sky around them, blotting out the stars they knew so well. The angels sang together, “Glory to God in the Highest, Peace on earth, good will to men.”

This is what I see when I hear these words.