“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” “
Luke 2: 1 – 14 (NIV)
For many of us, shepherds are associated with the birth of baby Jesus. Afterall, most Christmas manger scenes usually display shepherds and sheep along with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and the wise men. Even Christmas carols such as “Away in the Manger,” give a nod to the shepherds in their verses.
Luke reveals in verse 9 of this second chapter how an angel of the Lord appeared before shepherds, announcing the birth of a Savior who is Messiah and Lord. After the sharing of this Good News, a multitude of heavenly hosts materialize with the angel and praise God.
Well familiar with this passage, my breath caught in my throat as I read with new eyes. Suddenly, a glimpse of heaven opened before me. I found myself not wanting to rush through this moment but revel in it’s beauty and wonder. Is anyone else blown away at the thought of witnessing a great company of angels praising God? I can only imagine how glorious a sight and sound this must have been. What a foretaste of heaven!
“The child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.”
Luke 1: 80 (NIV)
The first chapter of Luke closes with a reference to the development and maturation of John the Baptist. “The child grew and became strong in spirit.” Simple as this statement may be, it reveals great depth about John the Baptist’s spiritual life. As his body matured physically, John the Baptist’s spirit also grew in strength. This strengthening of spirit was critical for John the Baptist for him to fulfill Gabriel’s prophecy and prepare the way of the Lord. Also remember, Gabriel told Zachariah that his son would “go on before the Lord in the spirit and strength of Elijah.”
Elijah was one of the Bible’s greatest prophets. He performed many miracles and was used mightily by God to turn His people back to Him. In fact, Elijah was so great and favored by the Lord that he did not die an earthly death but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Yet, with all he accomplished, Elijah’s strength did not originate from himself but from the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Luke 1:67-79 (NIV)
One detail we should not miss, is what Zachariah’s first spoken words were after a nine-month vocal sabbatical. “Immediately, his mouth was opened, and his tongue set free, and he began speaking, praising God (Luke 1:64, NIV).” What excitement, praise, wonder, and awe Zachariah must have stored up in his heart after nine months of enforced silence. To have been in the presence of an angel, heard the words of the heavenly host, and have watched his wife throughout her growing pregnancy to the birth of his son, one can only imagine how Zachariah must have been literally bursting out in praise and worship to God!