“Christmas is almost here!” For some people, this announcement causes terror to erupt inside them. One can see it in their eyes. “No! It can’t be! I am nowhere near finished with buying Christmas gifts! How did the time fly by so fast?” For the children, it brings excitement and joy. Christmas will finally be here in a few days and the interminable time of waiting will finally be over. They will soon be at the Christmas tree ripping open their presents on Christmas morning. As for me, I know that Christmas Day is almost here from the bright glow of the Advent Wreath on my dining room table. The purple Prophecy and Bethlehem and the rose-colored Shepherd’s Candles are lit. And now, on the fourth Sunday in Advent, the purple Angel’s Candle is lit as well. All four candles make my dining room bright with their glow and turns darkness into light. The glowing candlelight reminds me of Jesus coming into this dark world to be God’s Light for all who would believe and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a Light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in the darkness” (John 12:46).
The Angel Candle on the Advent Wreath reminds us how angels, God’s messengers, were used in the Christmas Story – Jesus’ Story. Before we go any further, we must understand a few things about angels. Angels have never been human beings. A person doesn’t die and become an angel in heaven. God’s angels are celestial beings created by God to do His bidding. Despite the movies that depict angels as having human desires, as in “The Bishop’s Wife”, with Cary Grant, and “Michael”, with John Travolta, angels are only interested in doing God’s work when they are sent to earth. Also, angels are not to be worshiped. Only the Triune God is worthy of our worship. There are also “dark” angels and other types of angels, as found in the Book of Revelation, but I will leave that to the theologians to address. For the purposes of this blog post, I would like to focus on the angels who were used in the Story of Christ‘s Birth.
First, we see an angel visiting Zechariah, a priest whose time it was to burn incense in the temple. He was married to Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, and they were up there in years and childless. While Zechariah was in the temple, the Gospel of Luke records this: “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But, the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord‘” (Luke 1:11-15a). Zechariah wasn’t sure what was going on and whether or not to believe what the angel was saying and questioned him: “‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time’” (Luke 1:18b-20). Zechariah could not speak until his wife Elizabeth gave birth to John, who became known as John the Baptizer and prepared people for the coming of the Messiah.
After Elizabeth gave birth to her son John, she praised God: “‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days He has shown me His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’” (Luke 1:25). After John was born, Zechariah wrote on a tablet that his name was to be “John.” Immediately, Zechariah was able to speak and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and praised God and prophesied about what God was going to do with his son: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).
In the account of the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah, we see that Zechariah was scared out of his wits. Looking at Zechariah’s angel-sighting, it must be a terrifying experience that would “put the fear of God” into anyone (much more terrifying than Christmas shopping, which I think is pretty terrifying). The angel Gabriel isn’t a little naked baby with wings and a “belly button” as some paintings and statues depict angels to be. I don’t believe angels have “belly buttons”, since they were never born. Because the appearance of an angel is an overwhelming and frightening sight to see, the first thing Gabriel had to say was, “Do not be afraid” and that he had good news for him and his wife. The good news was too difficult to believe, but that did not stop God from doing what He wanted to do. This is an example to me that even our lack of faith cannot stop God from blessing us. God may discipline us out of His love for us, to teach us and help us grow in our faith, as He did when He took away Zechariah’s ability to speak, but His discipline is only for awhile and His blessings are forever (See Psalm 30:5 and Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11). It is also important to note that both Elizabeth and Zechariah praised and worshiped God for the gift of their son John. They did not praise and worship the angel Gabriel.
The second angel-sighting that played the most significant part in His Story was the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘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. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God’…‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:28-35, 38).
Again, as with Zechariah, the angel Gabriel had to calm Mary’s fears by saying, “Do not be afraid.” Unlike Zechariah, I believed Mary believed what the angel was saying was true. Mary just wanted to know how it would happen, since she was a virgin. When the angel explained how it would happen and told her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant and said, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), Mary put her life into God’s hands. Mary was a very young teenage girl, with her whole life ahead of her. Yet, she gave up all the dreams a teenage girl has and she followed and obeyed God’s unique will for her life. Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah did, she also praised and worshiped God with her own song – “Mary’s Song” found in Luke 146-55.
Mary’s faith in God is an example to us all. In addition to obeying God’s call, Mary teaches us that it is okay to ask God questions. God did answer some of Mary’s questions, but not all of them. She left it up to God, which questions to answer. Sometimes, as in Zachariah’s case, God chooses not to answer any questions. This causes me to ask myself, “Do I have the faith and trust in God when He chooses not to answer my questions?”
We already talked about the angels visiting the Shepherd’s when we talked about the Shepherd’s Candle, but it‘s good to note again what the angel said to the shepherds, because they were terrified by their angel-sighting: “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY [MEGA-JOY] that will be for all the people“(Luke 2:10b).
The next angel-sighting is with Joseph. The Gospel of Matthew tells about his experience like this: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had it in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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. 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.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him “Immanuel” – which means ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-25). Also, in Matthew 2:13-15, after the visit of the Magi (to be discussed at another time), Joseph had another angel-sighting: “When they [the Magi] left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.’ So he got up, took the Child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I will call My Son.’” In yet another dream, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him it was okay to go back to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). If I didn’t know any better, I would thing Matthew was talking about “Joseph the Dreamer” and patriarch in the Old Testament, with all the dreams Joseph, Mary‘s husband was having.
Unlike the angel visitations of Zechariah and Mary, the angel appeared to Joseph in dreams. Why was that? I really don’t know why. But, wouldn’t it be easy for Joseph to say, “Oh, it was just a dream,” and ignore what God commanded him to do through the angel. However, he didn’t ignore the dreams or brushed them aside as dreams caused by something he ate (ala Scrooge, in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”). Why didn‘t he? This is my own theory and I am not a theologian, so don’t take it as “Gospel Truth”” Joseph was a carpenter (See Matthew 13:55), and a man of very few words, judging by the few times he is mentioned in the Gospel‘of Matthew and Luke. While he worked he had a lot of time to think, when he did carpentry which did not require a lot of concentration (things that he had done a hundred times and could do them with his eyes closed). During his mundane work, I think he thought about the Old Testament Scriptures and the prophecies found inside them. In all his dreams he obeyed, he was also seeing prophesy being fulfilled. Again, this is only my theory. The fact is, Joseph’s fears were relieved when the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” He did everything God told him to do without asking questions. The Bible doesn’t give a lot of information about Joseph, the husband of Mary. But, by what it does say about Joseph, we know that he was a man of God and he obeyed God selflessly and loyally. I believe he loved God and he loved Mary and he loved Jesus. He protected them both and cared for their needs as a good husband and father should.
To summarize: Angels are celestial beings created by God to accomplish His will. One of their duties is to be His messengers to people on earth, to bring them good news, to warn them and protect them from evil, and what they say and do always comes from God’s Word. Even though angels can be an overwhelming and frightening sight to see, they encourage us not to be afraid, but to believe in God’s mercy and His perfect will. They never seek to be worshipped, but encourage people to worship and obey God as they do. Through the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds, we have examples of people who love the Lord and obey Him, no matter the cost. Through their obedience to God, many people have been blessed, and they were blessed because they saw the very “Face of God” when they saw the Christ Child: “For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6). (I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have paid a visit to Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, but it’s just a thought.)
Dear Father God,
Thank you for the Indescribable Gift of Your Son, Jesus the Light of the world. I pray to have the obedience of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds and obey Your call. Help me to walk in the Light of Your Son and live by faith and not by sight. l do not need all my questions answered because You know them. As these faithful people obeyed the angel by doing their part in Your Eternal Plan of salvation through the Light of Christ, I pray that I will share Your Light with others and not keep it hidden under a bushel. Thank you for Your mercy and grace when I fail to share Your Light with others out of fear of what they may think. I want to hear the angel’s encouragement loud and clear, “FEAR NOT.” O Lord Jesus, make me a blessing to my family and friends, to my church family, and to neighbors and strangers You put in my path. Thank you Lord that Christmas Day is near. Even so, Lord Jesus, help me to anticipate with excitement and MEGA-JOY the Great Day when You come again in glory! Come Lord JESUS! Amen.
Angels, from the Realms of Glory
By James Montgomery
Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creations story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the new born King.
Shepherds, in the fields abiding, watching o’er their flocks by night,
God with man is now residing, Yonder shines the infant Light:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the new born King.
Sages, leave your contemplations, Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations, Ye have seen His natal star:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King.
Saints before the altar bending, Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord descending, In His Temple shall appear:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King.
Some Christians begin the Celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Eve. At time all five Candles on the Advent Wreath are lit, with the white Christ Candle in the center of the wreath. This is the time the Advent Wreath is at its brightest and symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the world. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life” (John 8:12). The celebration spills over to Christmas Day, when Christians rejoice in Christ’s birth and, with joyful anticipation, actively await Christ’s Second Coming. When Jesus comes again, as an angel told John in his vision, “No longer will there be any curse. The Throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His Face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them LIGHT. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).
Until Christ comes again, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in His divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil [selfish] desires” (II Peter 1:3-4).
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL and MAY YOUR 2014 BE FILLED WITH CHRIST’S GLORY, GOODNESS AND GRACE!!!!
Lydia (with my sister Jane and her new puppy “Sweet Pup D’Otter” – “Pupper” for short).