The shepherds weren’t looking for trouble that night.
Wait. That’s not true. They were looking for trouble that night. They looked for trouble every night. They spent their nights keeping watch over their flocks. Keeping watch is looking for trouble. Keeping watch is being completely engrossed in the work at hand. Keeping watch means hanging on to the reality that wolves prowl and rustlers steal and neighbors need a sheep for the sacrifice.
They weren’t looking for angels, of course. They weren’t expecting something out of the ordinary. But that’s what they got.
And it scared them.
Of course, they weren’t the only ones that had been scared in this story. Zechariah, John the baptizer, had been scared. So had Mary. So had Joseph. The first thing angels say seems to be “don’t be afraid.”
Of course, there is a startle factor. But what seems to be the case is that people are doing a good job with what they are doing and in the middle of a good job, the messenger of God shows up and people are surprised.
So are we.
We talk with God about our lives. We live our lives, following him, as well as we can. Not expecting to be perfect, of course, not trying to prove anything, but we think about our steps. And we really don’t expect anything big.
Just a note at this point. If we are expecting something big, if we are playing the “if I’m really good this year I’ll get good presents” game, we are working the system, not following Jesus. Who died, after all, after being really good.
The people most surprised by God’s presence with them are often the quietly obedient. And then the quietly disobedient. While the noisy obedient are surprised where he isn’t. With them.