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Thursday, December 22, 2016

December 23: Christmas Angels We Have Heard on High

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news." 
- Luke 1:19, ESV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 
- Luke 1:26-28, ESV

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." 
- Luke 2:8-10, ESV

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 among those with whom he is pleased!"  
 - Luke 2:13-14, ESV

Christmas Angels We Have Heard on High:
The Messengers Who Bring the Good News

Christmas is the season of angels. We put them on our trees, sing of them in our carols, dress our children like them in our nativity plays and then pack them away for a year until we unpack them again in early December. Angels seem to be a nice decoration for our Christmas celebrations, adding a sense of splendor and glory to the whole scene. Yet when I read Luke 1-2, I suspect that we have probably missed the whole point.

The angels we actually meet on the pages of Scripture are not a decoration but a holy terror, literally. One angel shone before the shepherds with such intense glory that the shepherds were filled with great fear. When Gabriel came to Zechariah and the old priest doubted his words, he judged Zechariah with loss of speech for almost a year. 

 "The Shepherds and the Angel" (1879)  by Carl Bloch
These angels are also faithful messengers. The word "angel" in Greek means messenger, and that's what we see the angels doing in the Christmas story, Gabriel comes with news for Zechariah and Mary. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream in Matthew's Gospel, telling him to take Mary as his wife and then later to flee to Egypt from the murderous Herod. The angelic host comes to the shepherds to tell them the good news of great joy for all people.

Angels are messengers, but they are more than messengers. The angels in the Christmas story also bring glory to God. The radiant angelic host that fills the skies above the shepherds sings out 

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  

These angels are proclaiming a true message, but the main reason why they sing is to glorify God. They are exalting the glory of God and proclaiming His goodness to the shepherds to draw their hearts into worship, too. This particular angel song has been used for centuries to praise God at Christmas time. 

For all of their power, might, splendor, truthfulness, faithfulness and worshipfulness, there is something angels cannot do: They cannot fully grasp or receive for themselves the good news they are sent to convey. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that "the good news . . . sent from heaven" concerns "things into which angels long to look." Jesus didn't come to redeem the fallen angels. He came for fallen human beings, who bear the image of God. 

Hebrews 1:14 says of the angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" This Christmas, let's give thanks to God for the angels. Without their vital role, the Christmas story would never have unfolded as it did. Even today, they serve us in ways we never see. They are so much more important than a cool decoration. 

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your holy angels. Thank You for sending them to bring the good news of Jesus' birth. Thank You for the many ways they serve and protect us still today. You are good and faithful and truthful, and we thank You for all of Your wonderful works. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"Angels We Have Heard on High" by Hillsong   

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" by Chris Tomlin

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