In this present age, I wonder how we would react if we were confronted suddenly by an angel announcing to us that our Lord had returned after two thousand years?
Would we react as the shepherds, as they watched their flocks, had done when an angel appeared to them to announce the birth of the baby Jesus? And then, on top of it all, what would we do if we then saw a great company of angels joining the first angel singing praises to God? No doubt, many would be terrified at such a spectacle, just as the shepherds were.
But then, while some would be overawed with the wonder of such a sight, perhaps there would be others who would look at the scene in the modern way, which might lead them to suppose that an alien invasion was taking place, or that perhaps someone was messing around with a laser projector making shapes in the sky and that someone else had left their hi-fi on too loud!
Certainly, the shepherds were wise in the ways of the land and their flocks, and they lived their relatively simple lives in the yearly round of work associated with their flocks. Indeed, the angel and the heavenly host didn't appear to any sophisticated person living in a town or city – they appeared to simple-living folk in the open countryside and who would possibly be more attuned to their message anyhow than the townies of their time!
Anyone who has gone for a walk in the country on a still, frosty, moon-lit winter's night looking down into a valley with the spaced-out lights of farm-houses shining like distant stars in the darkness will understand the feeling of peace that the shepherds would have felt as they sat wrapped against the cold by their watch fires, perhaps chatting or dozing.
Again, any farmer who has gone to check his stock last thing at night in the shed will have stood listening to his stock pulling at their hay or lying down quietly chewing the cud. In my case, there was always the feeling of peace as my gaze wandered over the animals in the shed. And on a Christmas Eve, this would turn to a feeling of wonder when I thought of the myth, that the animals might have knelt down before the baby Jesus – well one could almost imagine it happening in that peaceful place too.
And that's one of the things I've always loved about Christmas – the message which the angels gave to those simple shepherds two thousand years ago – 'peace on earth' – how wonderful it would be if we received such a message from a heavenly host now - that all was to be at peace, world-wide.
But would we understand and accept that message if it was given to us in this way, I wonder? Would we believe that the pain of destruction and war, of death and violence, of hunger and deprivation, of loneliness and sickness which many now seem to take for granted, which encompasses us from every side, is coming to an end, forever?
Certainly, I would like to think that if we heard the message that the shepherds received, we would be so glad, so relieved that at last, peace is about to come upon us all and that the pain and evil that is covering the earth is to be taken away finally. Well, at least we have been promised that that would happen once Jesus has returned to the earth – no more death, no more wars, no more mourning and no more tears – how wonderful indeed.
And so, as we finally come to the end of the Advent season and prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, should we not also continually hope and earnestly pray that our Lord will indeed return a second time, this time in great majesty to rule the whole earth, sooner rather than later?
Then we would be able to join in with the angels and the rest of the heavenly host by singing joyfully – 'glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill to all men'. That, I'm sure you will agree would be the greatest Christmas present of all. Certainly it's on my wish list!