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21. December 2016 · Comments Off on WE HAVE HEARD THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

The Christmas story involves some familiar and essential characters.  Perhaps we have figures of them set up in the nativity scenes in our homes or churches.  There is the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus. There are the shepherds.  The Magi.  Although they did not come to the manger, but to a house that the Holy Family was in some time after the birth, we put the figures in the nativity scene anyway because they belong to the story, and look so nice there.

Then there are the angels. They also did not come to the stable where the manger was, but folks have found  a way to put them there.  Of course we know that it was the shepherds to whom the angels came: first one, and then the “multitude of the heavenly host” as Luke tells us.

But who or what are angels?  Do they exist, and why? There is of course a lot of misinformation out there, like for example this  picture.  That angel is so cute, and because of this he/she/it has crept into our Christmas christmas-angelcelebration. In the Bible we read a lot about angels.  They appear in the narratives of both the Old and the New Testaments, and the latter has a few things to say about the nature of these beings and their role.

But one thing the Bible absolutely does NOT say, is that angels are spirits of deceased humans.  We need to emphasize that, because more and more obituaries begin with saying that someone had been “fitted for her wings” or “received his wings” or that he or she is now “our little angel in heaven”.  Despite all the folklore about these so called angels “looking down on us” or “watching over us” there is absolutely no biblical basis for the notion that people turn into angels when they die. And if you read to the end of this piece, you will find out why that is a good thing.

In the language of the New Testament, the word that is translated as “angel” simply means a messenger.  The messenger is sent by God, and the message that the angel proclaims is tied to the One who sent the angel, which is why we often see the term, “The Angel of the Lord” in the various biblical accounts.  In that narrow meaning of the word, your pastor is also an angel, though few people think of us in those terms.

When the Bible talks about angels, it often refers to a supernatural being that interacts with one or more human beings.  Angels “appear” to people.  Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”.

Here are some things that angels do, according to statements in the Bible that refer to “The angel of the Lord”:

  • Calls and speaks
  • Has physical contact with people
  • Appears sometime in human likeness
  • Appears sometimes in supernatural form, often evoking fear
  • Appears sometimes in dreams and visions
  • Reveals information about the future (in the Christmas story the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus)
  • Gives guidance and instruction
  • Comforts those in need
  • Affirms promises and gives blessing
  • Rebuked sinful Israel
  • Rolled back the tombstone at Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Rescued people from prison (Act 5:19; 12:8-9)

In the Christmas story the angel comes to the shepherds who were watching the flocks by night. As was so often the case, the appearance of the angel initially resulted in terror. But the angel (the Bible says it was “an angel” – Luke 2:9) comforted them by telling them not to be afraid, because he has “Good News which shall be to all people”. What then follows is the Christmas Story it its simplest and most beautiful form: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)

What about Guardian Angels? In Matthew 18:10 Jesus was speaking about little children. In the course of what he said there, He referred to the angel that seems to minister especially to children and that they “see the face of God”.  Does this refer only to children having one or more guardian angels, or is it safe to infer that we all do?  Scholars seem divided on that point, but I believe the verse from Hebrews that we quoted above gives reason to believe that at least “those who will inherit salvation” have an angel assigned for personal duty to them.

Another thing we must note, is that if angels serve us, or protect us from harm etc. they must be incredibly powerful beings, i.e. they have a super-human power.  That is probably why almost all human encounters with an angel recorded in the Bible speak of the human having great fear, and the angel saying, “Fear Not”.  The cute angels that appear in Christmas pageants these days hardly evoke fear, but the real ones do!

Finally, lets consider for a moment the place of angels and humans in God’s scheme of things. In Psalm 8:4-5 we read, Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them, and make them a little less than the heavenly beings? The writer of Hebrews, who quotes this psalm says that in his humanity Jesus was for a little while lower in status than angels, but now crowned with glory and honour.

The Scriptures also tell us that not all angels are good; some are evil, and they are not “the angel of the Lord” but rather emissaries of Satan.  The creation story tells us that everything that God created, was created good.  That would include the angels. And if there are fallen or evil angels, it would mean that they at some point became that way through sin.  It should be noted that there is no promise anywhere in the Bible that a fallen angel can be saved.  The vicarious death of Jesus on the cross, was not for angels, but for you and for me.  That is why it is a good thing that we are not turned to angels when we die, but rather are promoted to glory, something that is of course promised only to those who have received the gift of Christmas that the angels brought to the shepherds.

I wish all readers a joyful Christmas and a fresh encounter with the message that is behind the celebration.

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