… and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9, NIV)
American pop culture has been lying to you. Angels are terrifying, pee your pants scary. They are not bumbling, lovable Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. Not in this story.
It is not that they are doing anything scary. Quite the opposite. It is just that they show up.
I wonder if this is why we work so hard not to see them. I wonder if we work so hard in our culture to cultivate a blindness to God and miracles and angels because they scare the crap out of us. The very idea that God is watching us right now and cares a great deal about what we do is unsettling. An angel walking into our living room would wreck pretty much everything we use to get through the day.
For most of us, most of the time, the world only works if God leaves us to mind our own business. He can show up on our schedule, like the maid, but we do not expect angels popping out of the air when we are hanging out with the other shepherds on a quiet night. In fact, we’d just as soon not have to deal with the problem.
Angels announce a reality that we talk about but, much of the time, would prefer not to encounter. We tend to live like the famous line from Augustine: Make me holy, but not yet. Angels break through our self-imposed blindness and self-serving ignorance. They say, “Hey! God is real, and he wants to tell you — yes, you — something.”
When God shows up, you pretty much have to pay attention. And you lose the ability to ignore certain things. You can’t ignore what the prophets say about judgment and wrath. You can’t ignore what Jesus said about millstones or lopped of limbs. You can’t ignore the wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is mostly good news if you are a poor, outcast shepherd shivering under the stars. It is not so good if you are comfortable and fat. So, if we think about it clearly, we find angels terrifying rather than comforting.