29th November 2020 – This is a message I shared in church this morning – for the children of all ages as we were all together. I feel compelled to share it with you too today. Please forgive the “note” type quality of this.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
You may think of Advent calendars, chocolate, counting the days down to Christmas…
You may be excited, expecting good things, looking forward to the holiday, to a celebration, to good food, special presents, maybe special visitors and family time…
It is also a time of preparation – you may be writing Christmas cards, inviting family over and working out who is going to cook the turkey! You may be decorating the tree or putting twinkling lights and tinsel up….
So you are waiting, looking forward, excited, but also busy preparing to help to make it a special time for everybody. We are preparing ourselves also to receive afresh the GOOD NEWS of the WORD made flesh, of Emmanuel.
When I was a primary school teacher, I would now be organising the class nativity and sorting out characters, speaking parts and costumes – we’d need a Mary and Joseph; maybe a Zechariah and Elizabeth; a narrator who would tell about the census and Mary having to ride on a donkey to Bethlehem, to be counted… how it was busy and there was no room in the Inn (and all our inn-keepers had to seriously shake their little heads at Mary and Joseph) and then the baby Jesus would appear and be plonked in the manger and on came the shepherds, wearing their tea-towels… and the wise-men, wearing crowns and turbans, and carrying gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. All the left-over children in the class would be the angels…
But I wonder what angels are like. Today I want us to consider the angels.
Often in paintings and statues and films, they are cute human children with wings, or beautiful women and men with wings.
We have expressions like – “HE has a face like an angel”, or, “She’s been a real angel this week…”
But real angels – What are they?
The name angel means messengers of God.
They are spiritual beings, created by God and for God;
God uses angels to help and protect his children on earth.
They are very joyful when a human person repents and turns to God.
They guide, protect, guard, fight, bring messages, obey God’s direct command. They are not humans and we won’t become angels.
Not all angels are good – Satan was once an angel of light, called Lucifer…
Many angels in the bible are mentioned – millions of them, it says, and 2 are mentioned by name – Michael and Gabriel.
There is a hierarchy of roles, described as Arch-angels, seraphs, cherubs, messengers and others in the heavenly hosts.
The Christmas story hangs on the announcement of angels – our messenger, Gabriel –
I was struck by reading the story in Luke by all the “Do not be afraid”s and I wondered why the characters were afraid? Personally I’ve never knowingly met an angel. One thing is for sure – nobody mistook this angel for a cute human being!
The following characters, in Luke’s gospel, met an angel –
1 – Zechariah (Luke 1:13-20) was “Startled and gripped with fear”!!! And the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard…” Later the angel tells him – “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” (v 19)
– came bringing good news, an answer to prayer, but Zechariah was “startled and gripped with fear”
2 – Six months later, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:30) and Mary is “greatly troubled at his greeting”, so angel says, “Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God…” and the angel goes on to tell her about the extraordinary events that would unfold and change the world, because of the son that would be born to her!
– found favour with God, but M was “greatly troubled”
3 – The angels appeared to the shepherds (Luke 2:9) “And they were terrified” “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”
So why were they startled/ gripped with fear/ greatly troubled/ and terrified?
What was it about their appearance or presence that made them terrifying?
Was is the bright light? Was it “The glory of the Lord” (from being in the presence of God)? Or was it simply because they were minding their own business – in the kitchen, or in the temple, or in the fields and SUDDENLY something UNUSUAL happened – something “out of the ordinary”?
And I wonder how I respond when something unusual happens, something unexpected or something frightening? What do I do when I’m frightened, or worried?
Do I hide and refuse to look or listen? Do I run for help?
Lets look at what these well known characters did, because how they responded to the message of the angels is central to the story of Christmas!
1 – Zechariah – At the birth of their baby boy, he wrote “His name is John” – as he had been told by the angel. (Luke 1:63)
2 – Mary said – “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me, as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) Whatever You say, I’ll do it! Wow!!!
3 – Joseph (who we hear about more in Matthew chapter 1) He “did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (instead of sending her away, as he’d planned)
4 – The shepherds – “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby… And when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them… And Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:16 – 20)
So, in summary –
1 – I wonder how the angels appeared and what made the characters in our story so afraid?
And 2 – I ‘m so glad they listened to the angels! I marvel at their responses to the message of the angels. – They listened, they believed and they said yes and did what they were told. And then they spread the good news.
As Elizabeth said to Mary –
“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45)
And as the angel Gabriel said to Mary – “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)
And as all the angels say to us – “Do not be afraid!”
We are to present our requests to God, knowing He hears our prayers and loves us with an everlasting love.
How do you imagine angels to look?
Have you met an angel? Some people know the name of their guardian angel – Do you?