Today’s advent offering moves us on in the nativity narrative to a scene that is described in Luke 2.8-13 – the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
The painting I’ve chosen that illustrates this annunciation is by 17th Century Dutch painter Pieter Mulier II. The reason I like it so much is the way that it draws the viewer into the action of the scene. The shepherds and their animals all crowd around the very forefront of the picture – they’re so close to us that we can almost feel as though we are there with them, sitting on the grass beside them, looking straight ahead at the awesome inbreaking of the heavenly realm into the still of the night. While most of the animals site docilely, seemingly unimpressed with the unfolding events, a startled dog to our right has overturned a copper pot – if I stretch out my hand, I think I could catch hold of it. Some of the shepherds, like us, are looking at the angelic figure who is reaching out beyond the ochre-gold clouds to get our attention; others seem to still be asleep, unaware as yet of the amazing sight in the sky. No doubt they’ll soon wake up once the great company of angels start to sing.
Tomorrow, we’ll see what happens next in the nativity narrative, once the shepherds arrive in Bethlehem.