17 December 2009

Temple Themes in Luke's Account of the Angels and Shepherds

The account of the angels appearing to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth “anesthetizes our reading by its very familiarity.” No one disputes the beauty of Luke’s contrasting word pictures—shepherds in darkness met by angels in glorious light; heavenly choirs enjoining earthly worship. Yet the very poetry of the account, joined as it is with the inescapable riot of images and mechanically-intoned “glorias” that madly engulf us each Christmas season, seems to dim in personal significance as it increases in ubiquity. In contemporary culture, the narrative of the angels has become a pretty story—and, sadly, little else.

For ancient readers of the Bible, however, the story of the shepherds was an extraordinary tale, a thinning of the veil like no other. Though the “appearance of angels is by no means frequent in the Gospels,” the first two chapters of Luke are a “remarkable outcrop” of divine visitations, with annunciations to Zacharias and Mary as prelude to the most stunning angelophany recorded in scripture...

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