While the shepherds were tending their flocks that night so long ago, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified.” [i]
In the story of Christ’s birth, angels played a pivotal role. Not only did an angel appear to the shepherds near Bethlehem, one also came to Mary, and Joseph was visited three times by an angel. They brought messages of reassurance, proclamations from God, warnings and instructions, greetings, good news of joy and peace, and words of praise and worship to God.
Throughout the ages, mankind has had keen interest in, and often a preoccupation with, “spirit beings”. Indeed, angels are spiritual beings which have no human form, although they sometimes are manifested in human likeness. We only have to explore literature, art, and film to see people’s fascination with these supernatural entities. Television series have profiled angelic beings who come to the aid of humans. Artists have illustrated their interpretations of angels. Musicians have featured angels in masterful compositions. But what about the angels who appeared around the time of Christ’s birth? Who were they? What was their purpose?
We know from the Bible that angels are created by God, sent to minister to believers, are able to change their appearance, are mentioned almost 300 times, number in the tens of thousands (likely millions), express emotions, speak and sing praises to God, are superior to humans but inferior to God, appear in a brilliance and beauty beyond human comprehension, and are called holy.[ii] They are “God’s messengers whose chief business is to carry out His orders in the world.”[iii]
It is no wonder, then, that when the angels appeared to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds they were quick to reassure them with the words, “Do not be afraid.”
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”[iv] What comfort the angel brought to a young groom-to-be distraught over what he no doubt believed was the infidelity of his fiancée.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”[v] The angel, Gabriel, gave assurance to this young girl that what was about to happen was from the Holy Spirit of God and she had been chosen to be the mother of the promised Messiah. What confidence the angel inspired within her soul!
“Do not be afraid,” the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”[vi] Once again, one angel, and later a host of angels, calmed the shepherds enabling them to hear the amazing message of Christ’s birth and search with great enthusiasm for the baby in the manger.
The angels in the Christmas story also proclaimed a message that would change the course of human history. Until then, those who believed God had only the prophecies which foretold of a Messiah who would bring salvation and deliverance. Their faith looked forward to that day.
To Joseph, the angel declared, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”[vii]
To Mary, Gabriel announced, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give Him the throne of His father, David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”[viii]
To the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”[ix]
Another great truth about God’s angels is their desire to bring praise and glory to their Creator instead of drawing attention to themselves. In all angelic appearances in Scripture, angels seek to focus our hearts and minds on our Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let us rejoice with the angels this Christmas season and worship the Lord saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”[x]
Until Christmas Day,
P.S. Hope you enjoyed some of my angel collection.
[i] Luke 2:9
[ii] Mark 8:38; Luke 2:14;15:10; 24:4; Acts 10:3, 30; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:14; 2:7; Revelation 5:11
[iii] Billy Graham, Angels: God’s Secret Agents, 1975, 1986, page 26
[iv] Matthew 1:20
[v] Luke 1:30
[vi] Luke 2:10
[vii] Matthew 1:21
[viii] Luke 1:32
[ix] Luke 2:11