(Luke 2, John 1, Isaiah 9)
They rested in the darkness that was like a blanket, thick and full. A superstitious man might have called this blackness a monster, threatening to swallow them whole. No lantern from Bethlehem could reach them in those fields. The moon and the stars cast a light just sufficient to see the sheep. Even sheep understand that the night is a fearful time. Every danger imaginable lurks in the hours between dusk and dawn. Robbers, lions, wolves. At any moment death could emerge from just outside their circle of vision.
Isaiah once wrote about these shepherds and these sheep. These men in the fields knew they were the “people who lived in a land of deep darkness.” Men and women in Jerusalem, even in Bethlehem, could pretend the darkness didn’t exist. They could try to hold it back with the lanterns and torches. Not these shepherds. They saw the darkness every night, and they felt it in their spirits. There were dangers even deeper than lions and bears and wolves and robbers. They knew that darkness enveloped the whole nation, body and soul. No lantern could ever overcome that sort of darkness.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders could pretend that the night only affected other men like the shepherds. Those teachers called themselves shepherds, but they weren’t. They were wolves. They were the lions and robbers who hid in the darkness. Believing themselves to be lights, when in reality they expanded the darkness, spreading death and fear.
Men like that would never have understood their need for the Light that exploded on the shepherds that night.
All around them, blazing like the glory of the sun, the Light shattered the darkness. They were terrified. There was no way to protect themselves or their sheep from the piercing and purifying nature of this Light, an illumination that penetrated to their deepest parts and threatened to destroy them as surely as the darkness would have swallowed them up.
No man of sin can stand for long in the presence of this type of Light. These shepherds understood how far the darkness spread and they were rightly afraid. At the peak of their terror, when any sane man would run, they heard the voice from heaven.
“Fear not,” said the angel of Light. “I bring you good news of great joy.”
The Savior. The Messiah. Bethlehem. They heard the words of the angel and felt the darkness and terror subside. The Light did not come merely to expose them, but also to save them.
When the devastating light of heaven faded that night, they understood that it was still shining in a stable not far away. Contained in the form of a baby, the very Light of God had arrived, not only to penetrate the darkness but to sweep it away altogether.
When He was grown, those who stood nearby would see glimpses of the Light He carried. On a mountain. In a river. By a tomb. He would shine the Light of God on those who knew they dwelt in darkness, exposing the sin and death inside. But He would do more. He would lean forward, into the dark hearts of his people and he would light them up from the inside. Flames of fire would rest on their heads and the warmth of God’s Light would settle in their hearts.
The darkness would never again be able to destroy the Light. The world would never understand the Light, would try to put it out. But the world would fail.
In a blaze of heavenly light the Man would destroy the worst darkness that exists in this world. Conquering death and sin and every evil, His Light would triumph. He would tell His followers to be shepherds, but the type of shepherds who stand now in the reflected Light of His triumph. And He would promise to come back and make the entire world shine, once and for all, with a Light that could never be extinguished.
And we the people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light. Shining on shepherds, shining on sheep, shining on you and me. And the darkness could not overcome it.
If you haven’t done so, enter your email address to subscribe: