By James H. Snowden
n the night of the Nativity the shepherds were in the field keeping watch over their flocks, for those faithfully engaged in the lowliest duties may receive a splendid visitation from heaven. The night did not seem different from other nights. The skies were as serene and the stars burned as calm as in all the past. The shepherds were as unconscious of any coming wonder as the sleeping sheep that lay like drifted snow on the ridges. Yet the heavens were strained tense with expectation and were on the point of being shattered into song. Flocks of angels were flying downward from the stars, and as their white wings struck earth’s atmosphere they kindled it into radiance with heavenly glory, and from the gallery of the skies they chanted their song, accompanied with all the golden harps and deep-toned organ pipes of the celestial choir. Never before or since was such a concert heard in this world, and yet only shepherds and sheep were present to hear it. The encircling hills were the grand amphitheater in which it was rendered, the grassy slopes were the only seats, and there were no tickets of admission, but, like the gospel itself, it was given without money and without price. Musical artists are often sensitive and critical and exclusive people, chary of a free exercise of their gifts and particular as to their audience, but angels will sing for anybody.
The simple-minded shepherds were sore afraid at this outburst of heavenly music, as wiser people would have been. An angel voice sang the solo:
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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.
“Be not afraid!” Sin has wrought such disorder in this world that the thought of spirit visitors frightens us and heaven itself must not come too near. There are great reasons for fear in this darkened world, but the coming of Jesus into it is not one of them. His only mission is to release us from the bondage and bitterness of sin and let us out into the glorious liberty and joy of the sons of God. And Christ has in a marvelous degree cast fear out of the world and poured joy through all its channels, as the sun disperses the night and spills its splendor over hills and vales.
The good tidings announced the birth of a Saviour, and this is the best news this sin-stricken world can hear, for sin is the root of all our fear and misery. Back of every bitter tear lies a guilty thought or deed. This connection is often visible upon the surface and stabs us in the face, and then it may lie hidden under many generations, but it is always there. Sin is the disease that poisons all our blood and blights our physical and moral and spiritual health and happiness. Cut this ugly tree up by the roots and all its scarlet fruits and poisonous leaves will wither; cure this disease and our human world will be transformed into a new Paradise of God. A Saviour is the supreme need of the world, and his birth was news good enough to bring singing angels to earth and fill all the centuries with song.
Definite directions were given for finding the new-born Saviour in the city of David, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. The angelic message was not simply a song in the air, a halo of celestial light, a splendid but fading vision, but it bound itself down to definite places and circumstances and left something solid. Again we note that this thing, was not done in a corner and is not afraid of facts. Jesus was a true human child and took upon him our form down to his infant clothes. The Christ is a great wonder in his divine personality, ever transcending our utmost comprehension, but we can understand his swaddling bands. Christianity is not all mystery, but it also comes down close around us and embodies itself in many plain facts and duties. “Ye shall find the babe.” The shepherds were not left to wander around in uncertainty, but sent direct to the place. Christ is not hidden from us, clear directions point out the place where he is, and every soul that seeks him shall find him.
The angel solo broke out into a heavenly chorus which gave a broad interpretation of the meaning of the birth of Christ:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.
This chorus first ascribes glory to God, for all things good and beautiful come from him and express his glory, as all rays of daylight shoot from the sun and are its splintered splendor. The gift of Christ manifests the glory of God in that it displays the divine wisdom in devising the plan of salvation, the divine power in executing it, and the divine love as its mighty motive. The glory of God, that streams through the heavens as through a dome of many-colored glass, is concentrated and burns with the interest brightness in the person of his Son.
The chorus next pronounces peace upon men. Divine glory and human good will are related as cause and effect. When men get right with God they at once get right with one another, as the center of a circle, when truly located, pulls every point on the circumference into its proper place in the curve; but when men are at variance with God they are at enmity among themselves. Divine glory is the sun shining in the heavens; human good will is a garden and orchard all abloom with flowers and laden with fruit. As the glory of the sun is transformed into rosy buds and sweet fruit, so is the glory of God transformed into human good will. The glory of God and the peace of men are never in antagonism, but are always complementary and harmonious, they are the two sides of the same gospel, two parts of the same song. They cannot be separated and must go together; in glorifying God we make peace among men, and in making peace among men we glorify God.
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