Summary: Angels are everywhere at Christmas time too. When you go back to the first Christmas, almost every major character in the Christmas story has an encounter with an angel
Angels in Our Midst
Natalie Hullander tells the story of her three-year-old son, Zac who was diagnosed with leukemia. Questions for God abounded: “Will God keep Zac safe? Will he be okay?” Zac checked into Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. One night he had a seizure and all her fears came to the surface. When it subsided and she finally fell asleep in the hospital room, she dreamed there were many children surrounding her. One little boy had chicken pox. Some kids were giggling. “Do you have any candy?” one little girl asked. The children told her they had died in this hospital, but they all seemed happy and pain-free as they played peacefully together. She woke startled but soon felt a calm envelop her, knowing those children wanted her to know that whether Zac stayed here on Earth with our family or went to join another one in heaven, he’d be okay. The next morning Natalie called her sister to tell her of the dream. “You saw the angels of Hemby Hospital. There are stories in the news about them.” Many people had seen angels at this hospital and these gave her the assurance that no matter what happened, Zac would not only be safe but he would be OK. It took three years, but Zac made it through his leukemia battle. And Natalie says, “I have no doubt there were angels by his side–and mine–all the time.”
Angels are everywhere at Christmas time too: in store windows, on television and even atop Christmas trees. When you go back to the first Christmas, almost every major character in the Christmas story has an encounter with an angel. The archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would give birth to the Messiah. An angel also visited Joseph in a dream and told him the baby Mary carried was truly the Son of God. After Jesus was born, the angel appeared to Joseph to warn him to flee with his family to Egypt to keep the baby safe from King Herod and then again to tell Joseph it was safe to return to Nazareth. And on the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to the shepherds tending their flocks in the field to announce the birth of the Messiah. And in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it was an angel and not a star which led the three wise men to Bethlehem.
Angels have three primary roles in God’s scheme. First, angels reflect the light of God’s presence. “the glory of the Lord shone around them” signifying the very presence of God in their midst. Second, angels sing God’s praise. After the announcement to the shepherds, an entire choir of angels appears and begins singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” This is only the second time in the Bible that a group of angels rather than one angel had appeared to people, proving that something earthshattering was happening. God’s plan of salvation is now coming to fruition. Once and for all, sin will be defeated and every person who calls upon the name of this child, Jesus, will be saved. That is why the angels sing God’s praise on this the most holy of nights. Third, they are messengers. In fact, the word angel actually means messenger. In our Scripture tonight, the angel tell the shepherds: “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.”
The very presence and appearance of the angels to the shepherds is a message of just how far God would go to save us. On that night, angels travelled across the heavens to appear to the shepherds. If we simply dwell on the spec of real estate we occupy in a universe measured by millions of light years, you begin to get a sense of the distance these angels travelled. The God who made the universe traversed the vastness of time and space and came all the way to the shepherds in a field outside of Bethlehem tending their sheep. There’s the story of a missionary in West Africa who was explaining to her class the American custom of giving gifts at Christmas. She summed it up by saying that Christmas gifts were an expression of joy to God and love for our friends because of the coming of Jesus into this world. A few days later on Christmas morning a native boy in her class brought the missionary a beautiful shell as a present. Not living near the sea, the teacher in amazement asked him where he got the lovely shell. He replied, “At the seashore.” “But that is 30 miles away!” The boy replied, “Long journey part of gift.” And that is the angel’s message for us tonight, “Long journey part of gift of the Christ child.”