Sunday, December 6, 2015

Upon A Midnight Clear

The sheep these shepherds were watching weren't just any sheep. They
had a special significance and might help to explain why the message
was first delivered to these shepherds.
The old Christmas carol, "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" is almost poetic in its rich imagery. We see angels bending down to earth, floating heavenly chords, cloven skies, and peaceful wings.

I can almost see star dust swirling and glinting as it falls down upon the snowy midnight ground.

It's about a song.

When we sing of "it" coming, we are not speaking of the Christ child. Rather we are singing of the song - the one the angels sang, heralding the arrival of that precious babe.

We don't know the exact time of the birth of Jesus. All we know is that it occurred "while they (Joseph and Mary) were there" in Bethlehem. However, we do know that the angels appeared to the shepherds that night - whether it was minutes or hours after the actual birth.

How symbolic that the song of the angels came in the night - when the light was gone and darkness rolled over the Judean hills like a thick blanket.

Imagine the shepherds, quietly gazing into their campfire, or walking around the edge of the flock, vigilant, keeping an eye on the shadows, wary of any predators that might be approaching. The night is quiet and dark.

Scripture tells us that suddenly, "the angel of the Lord came upon them" (Luke 2:9 KJV) and the radiance of God's glory surrounded them.

The angel's message.

"I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:10b-14 NLT)

The song of the angels struck a deep chord within the hearts of the shepherds who wasted no time in traveling to Bethlehem to see the baby for themselves, even if it meant leaving their flock untended.

Who were these shepherds?

Well, according to Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity, as well as a pastor and biblical scholar known for his book "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," it wasn't only the shepherds who were significant. It was also the sheep that they watched.

Edersheim says that traditional Jewish belief was that the Messiah would be revealed from the Migdal Eder ("the tower of the flock"). The tower was close to Bethlehem, and located along the road to Jerusalem. The sheep that pastured there were very special sheep. They were the ones used for sacrifice.

God's message to the shepherds, delivered by the angels was likely significant for many reasons, but especially so because of the very sheep they were protecting. These shepherds were the first to hear about the birth of the ultimate Lamb who would take away the sins of the the whole world through His death and resurrection.

"It Came Upon The Midnight Clear" ends with a verse on the end of the age - the age of the ages when Christ will rule and peace will prevail over all the earth.

Even so, come Lord Jesus. (Revelations 22:20c KJV)

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