No doubt, angels are essential characters for advancing the Christmas story. Beginning with an angel’s appearance in the temple to Zechariah, the priest, and Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about her impending pregnancy, God’s messengers (malakim in Hebrew) played crucial roles. Just to refresh our memory, they also spoke to Joseph to reassure and then again to warn him. And we can’t forget about the encounter that shepherds in the fields had on the night of Jesus’ birth.
Angels had already been showing up periodically throughout the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis through the Major and Minor Prophets. They must be pretty impressive creatures. Some of the physical descriptions are bizarre, and terror is the usual human reaction to seeing an angel unless it shows up incognito in human form.
How many of you have at least one “angel” as part of your Christmas decorations? Is it a scary-looking being? Mine aren’t – they’re either chubby cherubic children or adult females. Neither of those descriptions matches the Biblical imagery. But I’m not sure I want to put one of Ezekiel’s living creatures or Isaiah’s seraphim on top of my tree.
Cultural depictions are stuck on variations of the cherubs seen in Renaissance artist Raphael’s painting “Sistine Madonna.” An unfortunate theological mistake may have grown out of this. You often hear people refer to those who have died, especially children, say the departed has now become “one of God’s angels.” Nope. We don’t transform into angels. They are a separate order of created beings. Humans are created in God’s image.
Back in the late seventies, Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents gave us a better understanding of these heavenly beings. More recently, Dr. Michael Heiser has written several books from his in-depth studies on the Divine Council and the inhabitants of the Unseen Realm.
This topic has been the subject of many volumes through the centuries, and my purpose is not to do a Bible study series with you about it now. I just wanted to say that our Christmas carols and decorations remind us that the critical plot points of the story were spoken to the main characters by heavenly agents. God wanted to make sure we received the messages correctly.
The first thing out of the angels’ mouths was, “Fear not!” Don’t be afraid of your divine encounter; receive the message.
And the messengers were also mediators who showed us how to praise and worship the Holy One of Israel.
“Glory to God in the Highest!” (Luke 2:14)
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
The angels point us toward the One who sent them. Not coming of their own authority, but at the bidding of the Father, who revealed Himself by His Son. And they knew this Son so well. For eons, since their own creation, they were intimately acquainted with the Word, who took on a body of flesh that night in Bethlehem, to dwell among earthlings. They celebrated the birth of Jesus the Messiah and rejoiced to share the good news.
Sometimes it takes a lot to get our attention. Each time the angels showed up in the Christmas story was a life-changing moment. May we recognize when God is speaking to us that it is always a life-changing moment.
Have a blessed Christmas, and may Jesus, the Light of the world, shine brightly in your heart and home this coming new year.