An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9).
Why precisely, were the shepherds in the Christmas story terrified?
Was it because they had never before seen heavenly messengers? Or heard an angelic choir? Or witnessed such a spectacular light show?
Whatever, their reaction was one of shock and awe…and raw terror!
It gets me to wondering about us.
I wonder if our culture has lost its ability to understand holy terror. That which is secular is considered sacred. That which is profane is revered. That which is clearly sinful and dark is held up as enlightened and progressive.
And the holy things of God are rarely treated with reverence. Or fear.
But it won’t always be that way.
Joy to the World is the most-published Christmas carol in North America. But when Isaac Watts penned the words almost 300 years ago, it wasn’t even intended for Christmas.
He was writing poetry to correspond to his understanding of themes in the Psalms, and this poem was to reflect some of what he read in Psalm 98. He was also envisioning the world of the Kingdom of God with Christ as its Cosmic King.
Near the end of the Revelation, the apostle John speaks of similar themes. But rather than images of joy and serenity as “earth receives her King” and “ heaven and nature sings”, John witnesses a much more violent scene of divine judgement, wrath against human rebellion, and the conquering of every foe by Christus Victor.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16).
The prediction provides a vivid contrast to this season’s ubiquitous image of the gentle, unthreatening Baby in the manger.
But there is clearly coming a day, when deep reverence and profound respect will be demanded, and will be expressed.
Takeaway: Is my understanding of Who Christ is sufficiently reverent? Do I understand holy fear? Can my understanding of biblical truth reconcile the Christmas story with the image of the Conquering Christ as the Captain of the Lord’s armies, the Rider on the white horse?