There are a lot of angels in the Christmas story. God uses angels throughout salvation history to make special announcements for all people and to present specific calls to individuals. In the narratives of Christ’s birth the angels have a very special message that speaks to all of us, even today.
Before the birth of Christ, Zechariah has an experience with an angel while he is offering sacrifices in the temple.
“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at 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.” (Luke 1:11-13)
Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout Jews who were also childless. While it’s probable that they had given up hope on having a child of their own at such an old age, they didn’t give up on God. They were still faithful to their prayer and their commandments. Zechariah was in the temple, living out this commitment. I suppose, because he had offered this sacrifice so many times before and still, God did not answer this prayer, he didn’t expect that this day would be different. But it was different. God sent him an angel to announce the conception and birth of John the Baptist, who would be a prophet to prepare the way for the Lord. And Zechariah was “gripped with fear.”
Have you ever caught a glimpse of God doing something new in your life, maybe even something that you have prayed for a long time, only to find yourself anxious when it starts to happen? I think we can all relate to Zechariah’s plight. I am there now. You may be too. The angel of God has this to say; “Do not be afraid; your prayer has been heard.”
Imagine how Mary felt when the angel Gabriel appeared to her to announce the conception and birth of Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, within her very own womb.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 2:26-28)
Even Mary, a devout young Jewish girl, who was prepared by God to receive this gift, was a little surprised and very concerned.
”Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 2:29)
As with Zechariah, the angel gave Mary this compassionate command and encouragement:
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” (Luke 2:30)
And the promise:
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 2:31)
Joseph, Mary’s betrothed was also troubled by the news that his wife-to-be was with child and he considered trying to break off their betrothal quietly so that Mary would not be punished by the harsh laws. Thankfully, God intervened, spoke to Joseph’s fear and opened for him that plan of salvation for which Joseph was to play an essential role.
“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.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
The fulfillment of this foretelling happened on the night of Jesus’ birth. For that celebration, God sent lots of angels, to a group of shepherds, who were simply out in the fields doing their job. Like others before them, the shepherds were terrified.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. 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.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:8-14)
In each one these scriptures God reveals a personal message to us: Don’t be afraid. I’ve got this one.
And every case, despite their terror, the people responded to the work of God. Zechariah, though he spent a quiet nine months (he was struck speechless), he named his son John and told others about the prophecy, just as the angel had commanded. Mary surrendered to the Lord and gave birth to the Savior. Joseph took her into his home and became the earthly father to the Son of God. The shepherds’ response is very interesting. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
The shepherds’ response is an invitation to all of us to “go to Bethlehem and see this thing that happened.” This “thing” is the most amazing move of God in all human history. God is freely offering the gift of His Son to save us from all that binds us and holds us back in the grip of fear. While you may not have visitations, visions or dreams of angels this Christmas, God is still speaking to each one of us. In the midst of packages and parties, take the time to hear Him speak through these ageless messages of the angels.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m answering your prayers. I am Emmanuel God with us. I came to save you.”
Glory to God in the highest! And Peace to all of you! Merry Christmas!
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs.
Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.
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