Watching the watches of the night

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.
Luke 2: 14

Good Monday Morning to this week 52/2018

Today’s reading from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

Luke, whose Gospel is the Gospel of the Humanity, lingers reverently over the Nativity, throwing a variety of side-lights upon the cradle of the Holy Child.  He has shown how the Roman State prepared the cradle of the Infancy, and how Caesar Augustus unconsciously wrought out the purpose of God, the breath of his imperial decree being but part of a higher inspiration.
Now he proceeds to show how the shepherds of Judaea bring the greetings of the Hebrew world, the first waving of gratin to be accepted by God which yet will be laid, by Jew and Gentile alike, at the feet of Him who was Son of David and Son of man.

While the shepherds were “watching the watches of the night over their flock,”  referring to the pastoral custom of dividing the night into watches, and keeping watch by turns, suddenly “an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” Now, in the dead of night, the angelic form is bright and luminous, throwing all around them a sort of heavenly halo, in which even the lustrous Syrian stars grow dim. Dazzled by the sudden burst of glory, the shepherds were awed by the vision, and stricken with a great fear, until the angel, borrowing the tones and accents of their own speech, addressed to them his message, the message he had been commissioned to bring: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” And then he gave them a sign by which they might recognize the Savior Lord: “Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.

In both expressions the underlying thought is the same, representing man as the object of the Divine good-pleasure, that Divine “benevolence” in the germ, the Divine favor, compassion, mercy, and love. There is thus a triple parallelism running through the song, the “Glory to God in the highest” finding its corresponding terms in the “peace among (or to) men in whom He is well pleased on earth”; while altogether it forms one complete circle of praise, the “good-pleasure to man,” the “peace on earth,” the “glory to God” marking off its three segments.

But is this song only a song in some far-distant sky-a sweet memory indeed, but no experience?

Directly the angel-song had ceased, and the singers had disappeared in the deep silence whence they came, the shepherds, gathering up their scattered thoughts, said one to another (as if their hearts were speaking all at once and all in unison), “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us.” The response was immediate: They do not shut out this heavenly truth by doubt and vain questioning; they do not keep it at a distance from them, as if it only indirectly and distantly concerned themselves, but yield themselves up to it entirely; and as they go hastily to Bethlehem, in the quickstep and in the rapid beating of their heart, we can trace the vibrations of the angel-song.

And why is this?
Why is it that the message does not come upon them as a surprise?
Why are these men ready with such a perfect acquiescence, their hearts leaping forward to meet and embrace this Gospel of the angels?

We shall probably find our answer in the character of the men themselves. They pass into history unnamed; and after playing their brief part, they disappear, lost in the incense-cloud of their own praises.

Evidently, these shepherds were no mean, no common men. They were Hebrews, possibly of the royal line; at any rate they were David’s in their loftiness of thought, of hope and aspiration. They were devout, God-fearing men. Like their father Jacob, they too were citizens of two worlds; they could lead their flocks into green pastures, and mend the fold, or they could turn aside from flock and fold to wrestle with God’s angels and prevail.

But there must be the music hidden within. We may be sure of this, that had the angel-song had passed by them as a cold night-wind, had not their hearts been tuned up by intense desire until they struck responsive to the angel voice. Though they knew it not, they had led their flock to the mount of God; and up the steps of sacred hopes and lofty aspirations they had climbed, until their lives had got within the circle of heavenly harmonies, and they were worthy to be the first apostles of the new age, the Kingdom of Jesus.

The shepherds appear no more in the Gospel story. We see them returning to their task “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen,” and then the mantle of a deep silence falls upon them. So these anonymous shepherds, these first disciples of the Lord, having laid their tribute at His feet in the name of humanity saluting the Christ who was to be-now pass out of our sight, leaving for us the example of their heavenward look and their simple faith, and leaving, too, their “Glorias,” which in multiplied reverberations fill all lands and all times, the earthly prelude of the New, the eternal Song.

How do we reply to the song of the angels this Christmas? Do we neither shut out this heavenly truth by doubt and or vain questioning; nor keep it at a distance from us?  Do we yield ourselves to it entirely; and as they,  go hastily to “Bethlehem”, with a quick step with a rapid beating of our heart,s can so we can trace the vibrations of the angels-song?

Happy Christmas!


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