This biblical passage challenges our preconceptions by suggesting more Good News than at first glance:
(1) The promised hope is revealed to humble workers performing servile functions, out in the lonely dark of a quiet summer night; so God reminds us that great moments of revelation are often shared first with those least valued by our human standards.
(2) Can we worship in the face of the unexpected? These simple folks apparently reported this “aurora” themselves, as the only witnesses to this luminous divine/ human encounter. They described the experience as one of wonder, a fragile human condition too soon relegated to childhood. “Wonder” offers us a mix of amazement, awe, marvel, and pause. The night sky was already a visual cornucopia of unexpected luminous events, yet these humble people were still alert to the “unusual in the usual”– thoroughly surprised by an experience that both scared them (v.9) and left them awestruck. Can we still be overcome by wonder—surprised beyond explanation—or do we always require “logic” and facts when facing the unknown?
(3) Like an unexamined burning bush in the desert, these servant people could well have decided not to investigate what they had heard. Their interest and willingness to “check into” the matter is not an automatic choice: I find myself wondering how many significant and startling discoveries I’ve missed along the way—because I chose not to “check” them out. Inquiry and curiosity may be one of the first steps in a pathway toward faith.
Daniel G. Bagby