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The Heralds of Salvation: Angels

The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. - Luke 2:10-11

…Angels from the Realms of Glory

…Angels we have heard on high

…The First Noel, the angels did say

Many of our favorite carols include angels because we love the part they play. The angel tells Mary she has God’s favor, the angel warns Joseph and Mary to flee, the angel brings comfort in fear, the angel brings good news of great joy. The angel is the most illustrious herald in our Christmas story, in no small part due to the most beloved angel hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

As elusive as they are to the modern world, they play a critical part in God’s salvation history.

Job tells us that angels have seen it all and been singing since the beginning, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. ‘...Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? ...while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’" (Job 38:1-7, NIV)

One can only imagine Mary’s disposition on meeting the angel Gabriel. Angels were sent by God to convey important messages but when Gabriel is the one sent it usually meant something bad.

According to Enoch, a popular religious book at the time, Gabriel was an archangel; one of the big four, and God would dispatch him to pour out his wrath on a sinful and wayward people. You bet Mary was afraid.

Given that it is Gabriel, a messenger of wrath, his first words are surprising, “Greetings O, favored one.” It’s like the terminator walking in your door and saying, “Have a nice day!”This is why Luke tells us, “…she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Apparently, Gabriel has not come because of God’s wrath but God’s love.

The only other Biblical book Gabriel appears in, as opposed to other literature, was in Daniel. The book of Daniel is filled with fantastic visions, that Gabriel interprets. One of those visions describes a period of 490 years in which there will be desecrations, desolations, and destruction. The good news in these visions comes at their consummation through the arrival of the messiah who will heal the world.

Gabriel’s appearance to Mary is an announcement that that time has come and that the one anointed to accomplish this task will be her child. 

As the herald angel announces the arrival of the King of Kings the news is shaped in such a way as to bless the ones who hear it.

The Christmas angel declares:

…messages of salvation to shepherds, “…a savior is born…”

…messages of courage to Mary, “…do not be afraid…”

…messages of compassion and hope to Elizabeth and Zechariah, “…your prayer is answered…the lord is with you.”


Message of Compassion

In the Christmas story, Gabriel announces the births of both John and Jesus, and for Zechariah and Elizabeth, it is a message of compassion.

Now, every birth is a gift, but Gabriel shares this news with the elderly Zechariah – that his wife, who is past childbearing age – will have a child. John is miracle baby. This is what theangel Gabriel tells Zechariah, “Your prayers have been heard.” The lack of a child had been very hard for Elizabeth, she said as much when she became pregnant, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” The angel let her know God heard Elizabeth and Zechariah’s heartfelt pleas.


Message of Courage

Angels don’t only bear happy or glad news, but they find ways to bring hope out of the hard news. The angel tells Mary at 15 that she will have a child. She knows she has not been with a man and that also in those times it was not only scandalous but potentially deadly news. But the angel reassures her that the promise is this child will bring hope to the world and she is able to embrace this news with courage, and quickly any personal fears she has for her fate dissolves into hopes for those in need.


Message of Salvation and Hope

When the angel appeared to the shepherds, they were understandably terrified. So, the first words out of the archangel’s mouth were “Fear not.” But Gabriel didn’t stop there, telling them why they should not fear, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Quickly their fear turned to awe so they anxiously left their sheep to see what had come to pass.

The culmination of this good news would be seen not only in Jesus’ sacrifice but His resurrection afterwards. This is God’s ultimate sign that the power of salvation rests securely in divine hands.

When God brings life, it becomes a message to those struggling, as the angel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you.” This presence can bring peace even in hard times.

I know someone who experienced several hard losses in a row. Her children were grown,and she wanted another child. Another treasured family member that was ill told her she would indeed have a daughter. Was he simply trying to make her feel better? Was it a message from God? She had always wanted a daughter but perhaps had given up on that dream. But as he was dying, she realized she was pregnant with a girl. She became a precious gift, not only of a daughter, but in a special way, helping her to feel the of the light of her brother’s presence.

There are so many herald angels in this church. Messengers of God’s good news of great joy to those who have found themselves in the shadowy corners of life. This Advent so many have shared with me incredibly tender moments.

…A person in experiencing transitions in life has found the grace of God in our midst.

…A visitor from off the street spoke to me of her inability to experience joy at this time of year, and the guilt she feels from it, but the Service of Lessons and Carols reminded her of God’s grace. 

…A person from the neighborhood who felt a devastating loss, received a gift from this congregation, and the expression of sympathy from so many unknown to her has given her a measure of comfort.

I remember as a three-year-old boy here in New York City at Broadway Presbyterian Church, we'd go to the Midnight Christmas Eve Service, and at the end when we lit those candles, I believed with all my heart that Jesus was coming into the world. This baby meant everything was different and then it was not only magical, but it was mystical, and it was glorious, and I felt all of these things Gabriel shared: peace and good will, no fear, the joy of God’s favor.

I knew that my candle could only shine a little light, but when they were all lit together, that something special happened, and in my 3-year-old mind I was indeed seeing that “glory of the Lord” that “shone round about them!” But of course, the awe and the wonder faded as I grew older.

But it has come back even stronger, this year in particular.

I know now that all of this magic of Christmas Worship didn't happen by the snap of the Holy Spirit’s fingers. That happened because somebody bought the candles. It happened because the ushers handed them out. It happened because the music people work so hard. And that even more there is a greater light than these candles…the light of God’s love that people feel, it happens because of you.

That is the miracle of the Christ Child. He has planted His love and hope in each of our hearts. And when we shine it with courage, compassion, and joy, others feel God’s hope, God’s peace, God’s joy, and God’s love. Amen.

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