Safe Place with Ruth Graham

“Behold” is sort of an old-fashioned word; we don’t use it much. And it is a word that needs some sort of explanation. If you tell someone to “behold”, they are going to ask you, “Behold what”? Same if we were to say “Look”. We’d have to tell the person what to look at or where to look or when. If not using language, you’d just point at the object or direction they are to look.

To me, “Behold” is more dramatic than “Look”. It’s like it is saying, “This is important. Pay attention.”

This Christmas season I heard a whole message on “Behold”. It is used in Luke 2:10  – the story of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people…”(Luke 2:10 KJV)

When someone tells you not to be afraid they usually add some sort of explanation as to why you shouldn’t fear. In this case the angel said it was because the angel had good news – great news for everyone – no one was going to be left out. Then the angel said what the good news was: a savior was born that very day in Bethlehem. Not just any savior but “a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

The country of Judea, where Bethlehem was, was an occupied land – the Romans were hard and often brutal in their rule of the little country and its Jewish people. The Jews had been looking for a savior for centuries – always hoping God would rescue them. They prayed for it. God had promised the Messiah. They had listened to the prophets but it had been 400 years since the last prophet – had God forgotten? Were they truly abandoned by God? But the prayers and hopes continued.

On an ordinary night as the shepherds guarded their sheep a very extraordinary, startling thing happened. An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared – just one angel. But with it came the brilliant, dazzling, shining of the glory of God. This was the Shechinah glory, “the visible token of the presence of the eternal”. It was God’s glory. Any time it appeared the natural response was awe and fear. (Moses at the burning bush, the Hebrews traveling in the desert, in the tabernacle…)

These shepherds were simple, hard-working, ordinary people; they were held in low esteem, not necessarily thought to be important enough for any honor or recognition much less a visit from an angel. The Talmud says that the sacrificial sheep were pastured in Bethlehem so these sheep were probably ones intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple.

The Good News of a savior – at last  –  was given first to ordinary, hard-working men who showed up faithfully to do their job tending the sacrificial sheep. They weren’t special. They didn’t earn it. They simply showed up for work that night. And their lives were forever changed.

God shows up in the ordinary, mundane-ness of life.

It was overwhelming, unexpected, frightening. The angel knew and anticipated their fear so the angel said “Do not be afraid.” before he said anything else. (God knows our penchant for fear.) And said “behold” then told them why they need not fear – he was bringing good news of joy for everyone – not just a select few – everyone, all peoples. And the joy was going to be in the fact that that very night a Savior was born. He was right at that very moment, indeed, lying in a manger wrapped in rags.

Then suddenly heaven opened and a host of angels were praising God. That’s a whole bunch of angels!! Not just a church choir. Not even the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – much, much larger.

These shepherds tended the sheep of the sacrifices. They knew what the law required – a blood sacrifice. No doubt, they knew some of the prophecies and perhaps had even heard the whispers of a promised, coming Messiah. After the host of angels went back into heaven they wanted to see what the angel talked about. They didn’t wait. They didn’t take a vote. They didn’t discuss the theological ramifications. They went. They moved their feet “in haste”.

What they discovered was the angel told the truth! This extraordinary thing was not a dream or hallucination – it was real – they saw Mary and Joseph and the baby. The Messiah!

What a thing to behold!





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