Christmas Reflection: The Alarming Message of the Bethlehem Angels

The Alarming Message of the Bethlehem Angels

Luke tells us that on Christmas night an angel appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their sheep.  Don’t get sentimental about angels, imagining them to be sweet and unthreatening.  Instead, keep in mind that the typical reaction to the sudden manifestation of a higher being from another dimension is, quite properly, fear.  Indeed, the Christmas messenger says to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid,” which implies that they were!

The angel announces the Good News of Christ’s birth, and then we are told that “there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God ….”  If one angel is terrifying, imagine what a multitude of them is like.  The Greek word that is translated as “host” is stratias, which means army.  Our words “strategy” and “strategic” are derived from it.  The most powerful man in the world at that time was Caesar Augustus, and his power was grounded in the fact that he had the biggest and best-trained army.  The rather subtle and subversive point that Saint Luke is making is this:  the newborn baby of Bethlehem has an even bigger and more frightening army.  Mind you, this angelic army doesn’t fight with the weapons of the world, but it can indeed overwhelm anything that is in the world.

–  Reverend Robert Barron

Bishop Robert Barron is the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles; he is the founder of Word on Fire (www.wordonfire.org).

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds (1639), by Govert Flinck, Dutch painter of the Dutch Golden Age.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (2:1-14)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest/ and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, Bernardino Luini (1480/1490-1532).

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Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.

Holy Family pray for us … Amen.

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