When we think of the Christmas story, we often think of Christ, of Mary and Joseph, of the shepherds and the wise men. But this post is dedicated to the most overlooked character(s) of the Nativity: Gabriel and the angels. Angels appeared at least six times in the few months surrounding the birth of our Savior — proving Heaven’s interest in such a significant event.
Angels are messengers. The word ‘angel’ literally means ‘one who is sent.’ These messengers of God deliver God’s Word and His will throughout the realms visible and invisible. Sometimes their message is one of worship (Seraphim) as mentioned in Isaiah 6. Sometimes their message is one of ministry and encouragement (Matt. 4:11; Heb. 1:14). Sometimes their message is one of protection (Matt. 2:13). And sometimes their message demands warfare (invisible: Dan. 10:13 and visible: Joshua 5:13-15). But always, their message is God’s; in fact, according to Matthew 18:10, angels are constantly focused on the countenance of God even as they deliver their messages and complete their mission. Let’s take a few moments to consider the special appearances of these divine messengers as mentioned in the Christmas narratives of Luke 1 & Matthew 1…
A Message of God’s Choice Revealed
First, Luke records the announcement by Gabriel to Mary of God’s choice of His earthly family (1: 26-38). She is stunned and amazed. He reassures her that this is exactly what God wants – that she is exactly who God wants. She has found favor with God. Because of the grace of God and because of her desire to be devoted to her family and her faith, God favored her. She questions not the plan of God, but the impossibility of bearing a child as a virgin. He explains it so matter of fact as if it is ‘standard procedure’ (the Holy Spirit will come and cover you and then you will be with child … simple!), then He prophesies about who this baby is and what His birth means for the world and closes with ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ Her response was one of great faith: ‘be it unto me according to thy word.’ This was just the beginning of difficult changes for Mary (accused of fornication, a shame to her family, physical changes, etc.), yet she accepted the will of God for her life and trusted Him with all the details. I love that! I wish that we would all respond to God’s impossible callings like that.
Secondly, the angel appears to Joseph. Mary had told Joseph the news and we find him (Matthew 1:18-25) debating on whether or not to shame her and to stop the marriage process. The message is simple: ‘This is God’s doing! Marry the girl and name the baby Jesus.’ At this point in the story, Matthew inserts an ancient prophecy of Isaiah which gives the reader a little perspective to the enormity of this moment. We need also reminded of what happened six months prior when an angel (possibly the same one?) visited Zacharias and with news of a baby (John the Baptist). When Zacharias doubted, he was stricken with silence until the baby was born. Both these situations of John and Joseph with the angel show a very interesting balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man.
Joseph didn’t have all the answers; in fact, his hurdles were just around the corner, too. But he responded in faith and with tremendous courage. Oh that we would trust the Lord as Joseph, realizing that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted, yet they involve our surrender and faithfulness!
A Message of Great Joy
The most famous encounter with the angels is recorded in Luke 2:9-15 as they appeared unto the shepherds in the night. At first, there was only one delivering the message of glad tidings and great joy to all the nations. It’s interesting that the news of the Great Shepherd was first delivered unto humble shepherds nearby. On the tails of the message, a celestial choir burst out in song of praise: “Glory to God in the Highest!” These men were never told to go find Christ, only how to identify Him. It was assumed that they would go to Him… and they did – in a hurry! And not only did they visit Him, but they told everyone they ran into about the angels and the baby! I wish that we would rush to Jesus and give him our worship, and then rush away telling everyone we know about how awesome He is.
A Message of Protection from Satanic Opposition
The next two angelic appearances are for the sole purpose of protecting God’s people and His plan (Matt. 1:11-16). Ever since the Garden, Satan has made it his primary objective to thwart God’s purposes. (Even though God knows Satan’s plans before Satan even knows his own plans!) He tries his hardest and uses any means necessary. He was able to use Herod two times during this short time-frame. The angel appeared to the wise men with the truth about Herod’s plot (Satan’s plot) to kill the Messiah. God led them to change their exit route to preserve His Son. In the day(s) following, the angel appeared to Joseph with the same message: ‘Herod wants to kill Jesus. Take your family to Egypt until I tell you otherwise.” Even in an apparent upheaval of human plans, God’s Word was being fulfilled (Hosea 11:1). Isn’t that just like God!?!
The New Testament calls upon believers to be angels. We are not of the angelic kind, yet we have an angelic mission / message. We are messengers and missionaries to deliver the message of God’s Word and His will into all the world. We must tell of God’s choice as revealed in His Word. We must share the gospel message, for it is the good tidings of great joy announcement that the earth longs to hear. We must realize that Satan is trying his best to oppose God’s ways and we must trust that God is greater, believing Him to do the impossible, stepping out in faith with great courage, obeying with continued faithfulness.