Angels and Christmas – they just seem to go together! In the narrative of the conception and birth of Jesus, angels play prominent roles in bringing messages to people. During the Christmas season we sing songs about angels like “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, and “Angels From the Realms of Glory”. We place angel ornaments and figurines around our homes and top our Christmas trees with angels. And who doesn’t want their child to don wings and be an angel in the annual Christmas play? We read how angels surprised the shepherds in the fields the night Jesus was born, praising God and singing “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace goodwill toward men”.
This is all good but we don’t seem to think much about angels outside of this. Well at least not real ones. We do think about angels once in a while, using angelic descriptions when someone is really nice to us, our kids are behaving extremely well, or when loved ones die. For example I heard someone say their “Christmas angel” blessed them by bringing a cup of Starbucks coffee to their job. Or when loved ones die we may hear people say God needed another angel in heaven, or they graduated to heaven and got their wings. Parents call their perfect children “little angels”. Some people believe loved ones return to earth as angels to watch over us.
None of these is harmful unless it keeps or hinders us from knowing and embracing God’s truths about His angels. God never changes and just as He used angels to speak good news to people we read about in the Bible, He can use angels to speak into our lives today. He speaks to His people through His Word, His Spirit, creation, His appointed leaders, and yes, even through angel messengers.
Imagine wanting a baby and praying for decades to get pregnant but it didn’t happen and now you and your spouse are aged, have moved past the thought of “what could have been”, and accepted life without children. Suddenly, out of nowhere an angel shows up and says, “Guess what? I’ve heard your prayer! You’re going to have a baby.” What do you think your reaction would be? Mine would be something like “Are you kidding me? I USED to pray that prayer but we’re old now, barren, and CAN’T have children anymore. It’s not physically possible not to mention we are old enough to be grandparents! I don’t want a child anymore!”
Or imagine being a young virgin girl, engaged to a handsome guy, looking forward to marriage and family when an angel swoops into your life out of the blue with news that you’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, you are told what to name him and what he will do in life. Would you laugh, cry, faint, argue, get angry, or be thankful?
Or imagine you’re a farmer or rancher and you’re checking out your herd one night with your boys, making sure all is well, when suddenly an angel stands before you and bright light encompasses you. Would you be paralyzed with fear? After all, it’s just you and your sons out in the pitch black overseeing your herds.
All imagining aside, this really happened to Zacharias, Mary, and some shepherds! We read about their angelic visitations in the narrative surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus in Luke 1-2. God sent the angel Gabriel with shocking and life-changing news to Zacharias and Mary, and an angel of the Lord was sent to the shepherds. These interactions should trigger some intrigue as to the possibilities of God’s interaction with us today. Perhaps by looking at these visitations we will stop settling for our earthly angel sightings and recognize God moving in our lives, even through angels.
We learn from these accounts that receiving an angelic visitation has a lot to do with our own positioning. For example, Zacharias and Mary had God’s attention, being in right standing with Him! Luke 1:6 “And they were both (Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth) righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Verse 28 “…the angel said to her (Mary), ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” It is safe to say we are likely to recognize God’s visitation, whether He comes through His Spirit, the Word, His appointed leaders, or angels IF we are in right standing with Him. We must stop being about our own business, making up the rules as we go and start living righteously before Him, in every aspect of our lives, completely sold out to Him, resisting the temptation to sin, in the fear of God.
We learn from these accounts that angels just show up! We don’t look for them, long for them, pray for them, or focus on them. They are God’s messengers not ours. Luke 1:11“Then an angel appeared to him (Zacharias), standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” v.28 “And having come in, the angel said to her…” Luke 2:8-9 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” We need to spend our time here on earth serving the Lord, doing what we’re called to do. He’ll take care of the rest.
We learn from these accounts that when angels show up with a message we will probably be afraid. Luke 1:12 “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.” v. 29 “But when she (Mary) saw him, she was troubled at his saying… Luke 2:9 “….and they were greatly afraid.” Certainly there are those angels sent by God we will never see who guard, protect, and go to war on our behalf. There are also angels who come as strangers into our lives, whom we do not recognize as angels to test our hospitality in the Lord (Hebrews 13:2). But these angelic visitations instantly instilled fear because these angels were clearly not human and very intimidating. Today, fear will probably accompany such a visitation.
We learn from these accounts that angels sense our fear and will minister truth to remove our fear of them to set our heart on the One whom we should fear. Zacharias, Mary, and the shepherds did not speak out their fear, but Gabriel and the angel of the Lord sensed it and said “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 1:13,30; 2:10) The lesson for us is to stop speaking out of fear and let God speak truth to remove our fear of anything outside of Him. We may feel fear but we have nothing to fear in this world and nothing to fear when God sends His messengers to us.
We learn from these accounts that we will not worship angels if we see or hear from them. There is no indication that Zacharias, Mary, or the shepherds were even remotely tempted to worship the angels. Instead their attention turned from the angels to the God who sent them. In fact, once they overcame the fear factor through angelic affirmation, they listened to and received the messages from God.
It’s like receiving a gift through the mail, FedEx or UPS. You don’t run out and throw yourself into the arms of the delivery person, fawning over him or her, pouring out gratitude for bringing your gift. You thank them for bringing the gift BUT your thoughts immediately go to the person who thought of you, bought you a gift, and wanted to express their love to you. Your attention is naturally on the giver of the gift not the person who brought it to you.
So it will be for us if when we recognize an angelic message – we will focus on the Sender not the messenger! We need not fear worshipping angels or giving them undue attention if we understand their purpose of bringing messages, guarding, and any other purpose for which God sends them. Angels show up and impact our lives to drive us into the arms of our loving Father in heaven, not to gain attention for themselves.
This Christmas let’s see angels – through God’s eyes not our own! Let’s be observant of what God is doing in our lives, how He is doing it, when He does it, and where He chooses to do it. Let’s be open to God’s intervention in our lives no matter how He chooses, through His Spirit, His Word, His appointed leaders, or through His angel messengers. Let’s position ourselves before a holy God, refusing to live in sin, refusing to conform to this world, choosing to be righteous in God’s eyes even though that means we will be rejected by many in this world. Let’s look for God sightings, the “suddenlies” of God. Let’s receive His encouragement today “Do not fear!” And let’s start seeing angels for who they really are and not what we’ve made them to be. We might just be surprised! Angels come and go – but the Lord? He is with us always! Let’s join the heavenly host praising God this Christmas, being Merry in Christ instead of trying to be happy in a holiday!
Luke 2:9-15 “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’”
Let us go now to our Bethlehem’s, our church families, and see and celebrate our Lord Jesus this Christmas!