The Angels of Christmas
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 5, 2004

 

Main Passage: Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Angels. What would Christmas be without angels? They are an integral part of Christmas. If we didn’t have angels what would we put on the top of our trees? Pizza? And what would the children dress up as in the Christmas play? You only need so many shepherds. The Christmas story starts and ends with angels, and features angels in the middle, too. And how could we expect anything less? After all, it’s not everyday that God, the creator of the universe, relinquishes Heaven and comes to earth born as a baby in a stable outside a crowded inn. For an event that was so incredible only angels could be the appropriate messengers.

Now for a little background about angels. Although angels are mentioned over 300 times in the Bible we really don’t know a lot about them, and most of what we do know or at least think we know is tradition and myth… pure speculation fuelled by a sort of Angel Cult. During recent years, angels have become the spiritual creature of choice. And why not? According to the “Angel Cult,” angels are loving and caring, they’re cute and cuddly, and they make no demands on our spirituality or morality.

And are there for everyone. At this time of year in particular, you can pick up any magazine, visit the mall, or even tune into Larry King Live and there’s a good chance you’ll see or hear something about angels. And what will you discover? Angels are sappy, do-gooders… we all have a guardian angel who protects and guides us… and they just kind of watch us as we live our lives, only really stepping in to avert disaster. Is that all there really is to an angel? Is an angel simply some invisible do-gooder? Some cosmic boy scout?

I did a search on the Internet this week using the word “angels.” Guess how many hits I found.

PARTICIPATION

Here’s a screenshot of my search. Take a look… I had 22,100,000 hits for the word “angels”. And in my never ending commitment to be thorough, I painstakingly visited each and every page. Okay, maybe just twenty or thirty. And let me tell you, some of them are pretty wacky.

Here are some pictures of our perception of what an angel is. [PowerPoint] Now, this may surprise you… for all of our preconceived notions and cultural references and best guesses, we don’t even know what an angel looks like. It’s only speculation that angels have wings, wear halos and play harps. As I was considering some of the instances in the Bible where angels appeared to people, something struck me. Sometimes when an angel would appear people would immediately know it was an angel. At other times, angels were mistaken for ordinary people.

Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)
Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

So the truth is we no more know what an angel looks like then we know what an angel eats. Although Mark Twain did say,

“When one has tasted Watermelon he knows what the angels eat.”
~ Mark Twain

So maybe we do know at least that much… angels eat Watermelons. The only reliable information that we have about angels is found in the pages of the Bible. So what do we learn there? Well, according to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary…

Nelsons Bible Dictionary:

ANGEL — a member of an order of heavenly beings who are superior to human beings in power and intelligence. By nature angels are spiritual beings (Heb. 1:14). Their nature is superior to human nature (Heb. 2:7), and they have superhuman power and knowledge (2 Sam. 14:17, 20; 2 Pet. 2:11). They are not, however, all-powerful and all-knowing.

So that’s a textbook definition of what an angel is, with references to back it up. And by the way, you and I are not destined to become angels. People don’t die and come back as angels. I don’t know where that belief originated, but it’s become a popular misconception in our society and has been the basis for more than one television show. But according to the Bible, and you can verify it for yourself looking at Hebrews 12, there is a clear distinction in Heaven between angels and humans who have been made right with God. So please, do not depend on TV to teach you good doctrine or theology.

Our understanding of angels has become more than just a little muddled through they years. This is probably most vividly shown in art. Check out what C.S. Lewis said…

“In the… arts these symbols [of angels] have steadily degenerated. Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later came the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of nineteenth century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity... In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying ‘Fear not.’ The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say, ‘There, there.’”
~ C.S. Lewis (Prefaced to The Screwtape Letters)

Now let me tell you a bit about Gregory the Great. No it’s not an autobiography. This “Gregory” was a pope in the Roman Catholic Church way back in the sixth century (540?-604) and was known for his cultural and spiritual leadership as well as his missionary work. In fact, the Catholic Church named him a Saint. Well, this Gregory the Great (or St. Gregory I) sat down and tried to flesh out what angels are. And in the end he said there were nine different orders of angels. So according to him, From the highest to the lowest in rank, the orders are: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations or dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels.

But again, in the end all we really know for sure is what the Bible tells us. And although this isn’t any one passage of Scripture that fully defines an angel, we can cross-reference a variety of passages to get a bit of an understanding. And although this isn’t an exhaustive list, let me give you some of the highlights of what the Bible teaches about angels…

• Angels carry out God’s judgment (2 Samuel 24:16–17)
• Angels serve God (Psalm 103:21)
• Angels praise God (Psalm 148:2)
• Angels are messengers (Daniel 4:17) – In fact, the word “angel” literally means messenger.
• Angels protect God’s people (Daniel 6:22)
• Angels do not marry (Matthew 22:30)
• Angels do not die (Luke 20:36)
• Angels encourage Christians (Hebrews 1:14)
• Angels should not be worshiped (Revelation 22:8–9)

So that’s a bit of a description about angels. What I want to do this morning is look at three specific events involving angels as they surround the birth of Jesus, and more specifically what I want to do is zone in on how the people involved responded to the angels and the messages they delivered. And what I want you to do is determine that you will respond to messages from God in the same ways. You may never see an angel during your lifetime… then again, maybe you will. But regardless, God wants to have an ongoing conversation with you. He communicates to you through His Word, through Prayer, through worship, through Christian teaching, through other people, through your conscience, maybe even through angelic messengers (It doesn’t seem to happen very often, but God has set a precedent and I’m not willing to rule it out)… and you need to know how to properly respond to a message from God.

 

Responding to Messages from God

Let’s begin with the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary. This is the visit that kicked off the entire Christmas event.

Luke 1:26-28 (NLT)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

And you know the rest of the story. The Angel tells Mary that she is going to have a child who will be the Son of God, Mary tells the angel that isn’t going to happen because she isn’t married and besides that she’s still a virgin, and the angel tells her, “Don’t worry ‘bout it. No problem, the father will be the Holy Spirit.”

A friend of mine has a theory about this visit from an angel. His theory is that we mispronounce the angel’s name. He doesn’t think it was Gabriel, he thinks it was Gabrielle. And this is his argument… if you were God and you were sending an angel to talk to a teenaged virgin about reproduction, would you send a male angel or a female angel? Now I know that you’re thinking that’s just dumb… angels aren’t male or female, they are asexual. But close your eyes for a second and picture an angel. Is your asexual angel a boy or a girl? But that theory really isn’t all that important because we aren’t all that interested in Gabriel or Gabrielle this morning… we are interested in Mary and her response to the angel and his or her message.

Put yourself in Mary’s sandals for a minute. How would you respond? I don’t know what Mary was doing at the time… Maybe she was praying, maybe she was peeling potatoes. I don’t know. But just imagine that you’re going through your day and all of a sudden an angel appears before you. Maybe you first hear the flutter of wings, maybe you see a bright light, but however it happens you find yourself standing before an angel from God. What would you do? Would you run? Would you fall to the ground in fear? Would you stop, drop, and roll?

We know Mary didn’t run away, but the impression I get is that she was quite scared. In fact, the angel has to tell her not to be frightened. Yeah, right. I’m sure that helped. Anyway, we have this angel who comes and tells this young virgin that she’s going to have a child and the father’s going to be the Holy Spirit. She’s told that she is the person God has chosen to give birth to Jesus, who will be God in the flesh. She had never had sex, there was no Invetro Fertilization, but she would miraculously give birth to a son. Now, listen to Mary’s response:

Luke 1:38 (NLT)
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.”

Mary’s was a Response of Faith.
 

1. Respond with Faith

Even though Mary couldn’t understand everything, even though she didn’t have all the answers, even though she didn’t know where all this was going to lead, she was willing to place her faith in God. And what is faith? In the New Testament book of Hebrews we’re given a definition of faith…

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Edward Teller gave this great definition of faith…

“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
~ Edward Teller

Mary had no idea how she could conceive a child, had no idea what would happen after she conceived the child, and had no idea what would happen after the child was born, but she believed that Her God was in control and if He said this was what should happen then far be it for her to disagree. If we are walking with God then there will be times that he asks us to do the incredible and even though we won’t be able to see the end result we are going to have to step out in faith and say, “Ok God, you are in control.” It’s at that point that we are going to have to believe that he will give us something solid to stand on or teach us to fly.

We need faith to exercise our Christian life to the fullest and we need faith to be everything that God would have us be as individuals and as a church. If we only ever try to do what we know we can do then we don’t need God. It’s by faith that miracles happen, it’s by faith that people come to know Christ personally, and it’s by faith that people are healed. The Bible tells us…

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)
So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.


That’s the first response… a response of Faith. The second response we have is a response of trust.

 

2. Respond with Trust

Mary wasn’t the only person visited by an Angel. You may remember that although Mary was a virgin, she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. (See? It is possible. You can stay a virgin until you get married and that’s a great thing. But that’s another sermon.) So Mary was all of a sudden pregnant and she was about to have some heavy duty explaining to do. What do you suppose she would she have said? “Joseph, we need to talk. You know how much I love you and I know that you are the most understanding and trusting man in all of Nazareth and you’re the only man in all the known world for me, but I have something to tell you.” I don’t know exactly what Mary said to him, but whatever it was he didn’t buy it. He wasn’t going to publicly humiliate Mary, but he was going to call the wedding off. That’s when an angel stepped in with a message for him. The story is told in the book of Matthew.

Matthew 1:18-20 (NLT)
Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.
As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

Mary gets a lot of credit for the Christmas thing and well she should, but let’s not forget about Joe. After all, Mary knew what she did and didn’t do, Joseph didn’t have the luxury. He could only take her word for it. “You’re what? Pregnant? How could that happen, I mean I know how it happens, but how did it happen? Without me? I thought you loved me, I thought we were waiting until we were married, and now this! Oh right, an angel. Sure, an angel, and I suppose you’re going to tell me the father is the Holy Spirit? So you think I’m stupid or something! No, don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, don’t call me… (sigh) I need time to think.”

Hey, you wouldn’t believe her either. Or if your daughter came home with that story you wouldn’t believe her, so why should Mary’s fiancée believe what she said? It tells us a lot about the type of man Joseph was in that, even though it appeared that Mary had cheated on him and he could have publicly embarrassed Mary for having been unfaithful to him, he chose to quietly break off the engagement without any fuss. But that night an Angel appeared and basically told Joseph that he would need to trust Mary on this one. How did Joseph respond?

Matthew 1:24 (NLT)
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife.

Now I know all this happened long, long ago in a land far, far away, but people weren’t dumb then. They knew how long it took for babies to be born, and Joseph knew that he would be viewed as the guilty party… the one who knocked up poor, sweet Mary. He knew people would be talking about them behind their backs. But he must have committed himself to just smiling and nodding and protecting the virtue and reputation of his fiancée. Maybe he had adopted the philosophy of Elsa Einstein, Albert Einstein’s wife, who said…

“No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.”
~ Elsa Einstein

Maybe Joseph concluded that he knew Mary and knew that she could be trusted. But I think more accurately he knew his God and knew that He could be trusted. And so after his encounter with the angel Joseph trusted what God had said through the angel, and therefore trusted Mary. And with that decision he became the earthly father of the son of God.


Then there was another response… a Response of Praise. That was the response of the shepherds, and should be how we respond to God and messages we receive from Him, too.

 

3. Respond with Praise

By this time, Jesus had already been born in the stable and the heavens were rejoicing, and the angels think, “Hey this is too good to keep to ourselves; we need to share it with others.” Actually, I think God sent them to tell others. This is what happened…

Luke 2:8-11 (NLT)
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

So you’re a shepherd, you’re out in the field minding your own business and minding your sheep, when suddenly the entire field lights up and there stands this dude in a shining white robes with great big wings. (I know what I said earlier about wings… this is artistic licence.) I don’t know what your reaction would be, but mine would probably be the same as the shepherds… sheer terror. But quickly the angels reassure them and tell them, “Relax, guys. Chill. Have we got some great news for you. The Messiah… the Christ… the Saviour has been born.”

It’s obvious that the Angels weren’t unionized because they even worked on Christmas day. But that’s beside the point.

If you were to make a list of who the first to hear the news of the birth of the Messiah should be, shepherds probably wouldn’t be in the top ten. They probably wouldn’t make the top 50. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even make the list. First of all, they really weren’t all that important… they were just hired hands. Plus, they had no real place in the society and certainly wouldn’t be considered among the “Who’s Who of Israel”. And they weren’t even all that religious! Their very work made them ceremonially unclean. Because of the demands of the flock they weren’t able to follow all of the prescribed ritual for hand-washings, and so they weren’t even permitted in the temple. And because of this, the shepherds were often looked down on by religious people.

Well, maybe these weren’t ordinary shepherds. You see, in that time, every day, morning and night an unblemished lamb would be sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people. In order to assure that they would have a supply of lambs for this purpose we are told that the temple authorities kept a flock of special sheep in the hills surrounding Bethlehem. And so it would be fitting that the news of the one who would be a sacrifice for all would be announced to those who tended the sacrificial lambs of that day. But that’s just speculation.

Whoever these shepherds were, they went and saw the baby in the manger, and after meeting the Messiah they went away telling everyone they met about the child. And this went on even as they returned to their flocks.

Luke 2:20 (NLT)
The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.

That was their response… a response of praise. What would be your response? What is your response? That good news that the angel gave to the shepherds wasn’t just for the shepherds. The angel said…

Luke 2:10 (NLT)
“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!”

Circle those last two words… “for everyone.” That means you. The Saviour that was born was your Saviour. And He has given you eternal life… or at the very least he has offered it to you, it’s really up to you to accept it. Because of what He has done for you, do you praise Him? Do you thank Him? And I’m not just talking about what you do in private. Do you praise and worship and thank Him visibly? The shepherds praised God all along their journey back to their sheep, and they told everyone they met about the Saviour. Do you hide your faith, or is it evident for all to see?

As we go into Christmas 2004 I would like you to do two things. First, I want you to be thankful for having had the opportunity to meet the Messiah for yourself. And second, I want you to think of someone who would benefit from being introduced to Jesus Christ in 2005. When you have the persons name in your mind I want you to commit to God to pray for that person and to find an opportunity to introduce them to Christ or, at the very least, to invite them to church. Remember what the angel said,

Luke 2:10 (NLT)
“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!”

And that is what you have to offer those who don’t know Jesus: Good news of great joy. Don’t keep it a secret, and don’t waste it.
 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2004 SunriseOnline.ca