Summary: The story of the angels isn’t so much about a heavenly sing-song than God announcing the end to the war between himself and the human race.
I’m sure we’re all fairly familiar with this scene—a group of shepherds are in the field quietly minding their own businesses when an angel appears to them.
We don’t know the name of this angel. However, the only angel to be named in the gospels in connection with the birth of Jesus was Gabriel. What do we know about him? Not a lot. The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger,’ and he came from God. We normally get the idea that he had wings and a harp, and probably looked like a little baby.
We do know that he was scary. How do I know that? Because people had a tendency to get scared whenever he showed up! Now this makes sense. The name ‘Gabriel’ means ‘God’s Soldier.’ So we don’t have a choir boy. Rather, we have a mean lookin’ soldier angel. He didn’t carry a harp, but perhaps a sword. He didn’t wear long flowing robes, but battle armour.
So an angel appeared to the shepherds. We don’t know that it was Gabriel. But the reaction of the shepherds suggests it may have been! (To be honest, it really doesn’t matter. If it did, Luke would have told us. We can’t let the truth get in the way of a good story! ;-)) Add to that the fact that the Glory of the Lord was shining around. The point is that whoever or whatever happened that night, the shepherds were more than a little worried.
What was the Glory of the Lord? The Jews understood God’s glory as something tangible. It wasn’t just a word they used to describe how good and magnificent God was. It was something real that you could see and touch!
In the Old Testament Moses saw the Glory of the Lord very briefly, and it affected him to the point where people couldn’t even look at him for six weeks afterward. So imagine how the shepherds felt. This scary looking warrior angel appears out of nowhere, and the Glory of the Lord was shining around everywhere. They were right to be scared!
The angel delivers a strange message about a baby being born, and then things really get interesting. A company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, ’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests!’
Now notice again the angels. They were a company of the heavenly host. Not the tenor section of the heavenly choir. This is military language! What’s more, they spoke their message. They didn’t sing. How many of the songs we’ve sung today got that little point wrong? This wasn’t a choir singing Christmas carols. This was a battalion ready for war!
But look at their message:
’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.’
They were prepared for war. Yet they brought a message of peace.
This is God’s way of saying, ’You deserve judgment, but I am offering mercy!’ The child born in Bethlehem will be the judge of the world, but through him you can escape harm.
The message of the angels is mercy. But there is a condition attached. This message of peace is only for those upon whom God’s favour rests.
Now here’s a scary thought. Does this include all of us? Who does God’s favour rest on?