Angels as a Symbol of Christmas

As Christmas draws near, you can expect to see many angels.  You will find an angel at the top of most Christmas trees and above the roof of many a manger scene.  As you receive Christmas cards, count how many include an angel.  And how many Christmas cookies in the shape of an angel will you eat this December?  On top of that, count the number of Christmas carols you listen to that will mention an angel.

An angel (or a host of angels) pop up over and over again in the Biblical Christmas stories.  It was an angel who spoke to Zechariah of the coming birth of John the Baptist.  It was an angel who announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.  An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, persuading him not to divorce Mary.  An angel told the Shepherds that the Savior was born in Bethlehem, then a multitude of angels burst forth in song, declaring, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

The English word angel comes from the Greek word aggelos, which means simply “messenger.”  In ancient times, an aggelos was like an envoy, sent with a message, gifts or resources from the king.  In the Bible, angels are heavenly beings who were sent by God to do the bidding of God.

At various places in Scripture angels are dispatched by God to guard people, to care for person’s needs, to fight spiritual battles on behalf of people or a nation, and to bring God’s messages to people.  Angels are a wonderful part of the Christmas story, announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist and the conception and birth of Jesus, but let’s keep their role in proper perspective.  Angels are the bearers of good news; they are not the star of the Christmas story.

Imagine a woman who is in love with a man who has been forced to live far away from her.  Every day he mails a letter to her, expressing his devotion to her and his longing to be with her.  One day a package arrives at the woman’s home.  In the package is another letter, telling her again of his deep love for her.  Also in the letter is a diamond ring, with a note attached, asking, “Will you marry me?”

This woman appreciates the mail carrier who has faithfully delivered each wonderful love letter to her, but it would be a colossal mistake on her part if she would run down the street after the postman, throw her arms around him, and declare, “Yes, I will marry you!”  It is not the postman who has daily poured out his sentiments of love to her.  It is not the postman who put his life-savings into a diamond engagement ring for her.  It is not the postman who longs to embrace her in his arms and take her as his wife.  All that the postman did was to deliver the letters and the package on behalf of the one who sent them.

Likewise, it is not the angels in the Christmas story who pour out their love to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, a band of shepherds and the world; they merely proclaim the good news of God’s love for us.  Yes, angels appeared in the sky above Bethlehem, singing out the good news to the shepherds, but it was God-in-Jesus-Christ who lay in a manger as the newborn Savior of the world.  Angels will appear again at the empty tomb on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and who rose from the dead to conquer death.  Angels announce the good news, but we must always keep in mind that it is Jesus who is the good news! 

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