Undoubtedly, we tend to put a heavy emphasis on the lowly circumstances of Jesus' birth when we retell the Christmas story each year. Certainly this is appropriate, for the Son of God humbled Himself profoundly when He "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:5–8). Christ's entire life was marked by humiliation, as He moved from a manger in Bethlehem to life as a common person in Nazareth to His ignoble death on the cross. Yet this humiliation led finally to glory. God the Father, because Jesus had been faithful to His mission, exalted Jesus and "bestowed on him the name that is above every name" (vv. 9–11).
Our Savior's glory was veiled by human flesh in His incarnation, and it remained hidden throughout much of His ministry. Yet there were points in our Savior's life when His glory shone temporarily through the veil. The best example of this is the transfiguration, the moment when Peter, James, and John were granted a vision of the Lord's glory as it shone through the flesh of the Savior (Matt. 17:1–13). Furthermore, this glory also shone brightly at times when the people might not have been expecting it. In the midst of the humbling conditions of our Lord's birth (poverty, being unable to find shelter in Bethlehem), there was a special manifestation of the Messiah's glory to people nearby. The account of this manifestation is found in today's passage.
While Mary and Joseph tended to their son, many shepherds were nearby tending their flocks (Luke 2:8). In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society's ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with these keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time (Luke 2:8–9).
Understandably, the shepherds were afraid (v. 9), but in this case the glory of the Lord's presence, which they could otherwise not endure, was a good thing. This was the announcement of the Savior, the One who had come to redeem even society's outcasts. So, after the angels sang their praises to the Lord, the shepherds hastily traveled into Bethlehem to see the wonderful gift the Father had given to His people (vv. 15–16).
The shepherds were eager to see the Savior of the world, and we should be eager to see Him as well. This involves not only coming to Him in our conversions but also seeking His face each and every day of our lives. Though we will not see the fullness of His glory until we see Him face to face in heaven, we will nonetheless come to a fuller appreciation of this glory as we study His Word and pray to Him. Let us be diligent in these means of grace.