Almost every picture I recall seeing of the angels’ visit to the shepherds the night Jesus was born shows the shepherds gazing up at the sky at a beautiful winged creature, or a “multitude” of beautiful winged creatures.
I’ve always wondered why, if the sky was filled with angels (apparently loud angels, according to most Christmas pageants) and the city nearby was filled with people, why were the shepherds the only ones to get the message?
It’s safe to say the angel didn’t really appear in the sky. The passage reads that “an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them.” Angels were notorious for appearing in man’s normal surroundings. The only thing that distinguished this angel was that the glory of the Lord appeared with him.
What is significant about this passage is not so much the angels. What is significant is that for the first time in 500 years, God’s glory returned to His people. Ezekiel (chapters 8-11) describes God’s glory leaving the temple, and now, the night of Christ’s birth, His glory returns.
Throughout Scripture, when the Lord reveals Himself, He always does so in some form of light, and He always does so when it is least expected. Though we may pray for God to show us His glory, I’m not sure that we fully understand what that means. Perhaps because we haven’t experienced it, we think that His glory is something that we can handle. But remember, in Revelation, when John saw the glory of the Christ, he fell over like a dead man.
At any rate, we can rest assured that it wasn’t the presence of the first angel, nor was it some sort of performance for the shepherds that drew the multitude of angels- it was, most likely, the presence of the glory of God, there on that unassuming pasture, that brought out the host of angels for a glorious worship service that left the shepherds breathless with fear and propelled to action. God was there in their midst, radiant in His glory, yet there for the first time in the flesh as a tender newborn baby. And because He was there, that’s where the angels wanted to be.
One day, the glory of God will return, and it will not just be for a small group of chosen shepherds. One day, the sun, moon, and stars will go dark. The earth will be pitch black. The full glory of God will light up the entire universe. When He returns in all of His glory, all of mankind will see and acknowledge that He is Lord, and His people will be completely transformed by the greatness of His glory.