Christmas According to the Angels (pt. 1 of 3)
Other than the Holy Spirit, they are the most pivotal players in the drama that we know as the Christmas story; they are the most pivotal players in the accounts God gave us about the birth of Jesus our Lord.
Matthew the Evangelist tells us that it was one of them who brought the announcement of the upcoming birth to Joseph. Luke the Evangelist tells us that it was one of them who brought the announcement of the upcoming birth to Mary. And Luke again tells us that it was a host of them who brought the birth announcement to shepherds.
I’m referring, of course, to angels. Their role in the Christmas drama has been practically immortalized by our hymn writers. Think of the hymns we’ll be singing at this time of year: Angels from the Realms of Glory … It Came upon a Midnight Clear … Angels We have heard on High … The First Noel … While Shepherds Watched their Flocks … Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
To hear the hymn writers tell it, the angels had a lot to say about Christmas, and, biblically speaking, those hymn writers are right. You may not have realized it, but it is principally from angels — yes, angels — that we learn the significance of Jesus’ birth. But why should we care about what these beings say about Jesus’ birth? What is it about them that makes them reliable sources to listen to? Very simply, it was they who came from the very presence of God in heaven and, with birth announcements patterned after those of the Caesars, it was they who declared to us on earth all that is important for us to know about Christmas, about Jesus’ birth.
So ask yourself: have I learned and do I remember what these heavenly messengers have told me about Jesus and His birth? And, having learned and remembered what those birth announcements say, do I share their joy at the birth of Jesus?
What is that the Gospel birth announcements tell us about “Christmas according to the Angels”? The Evangelists record four key ideas for us that we want to explore in this three-part series.
In this first part, let us focus on the fact that the birth announcements of the angels bring “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10; all citations are ESV unless otherwise stated). But who needs “good news of great joy”? Why, those who know themselves to be lowly and humbled by sin, suffering, and death — they need good news of great joy. Those who are casualties of the world, the flesh, and the devil — they need good news of great joy. Do you know anyone like that? Of course, you do.
So did the Evangelist Matthew. Of all places, he found a number of them in the genealogy of Jesus Himself. For example, the Evangelist reminds us that among Jesus’ ancestors (by adoption, of course) was Judah. You remember him: he was the one who led his brothers to sell Joseph their brother into slavery and was otherwise known in Scripture as conniving and promiscuous. There was also a woman named Tamar in Jesus’ line. She was the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah, who, because of Judah’s negligence, took the desperate measure of posing as a prostitute to become the mother of two sons by Judah, all to save from extinction the line from which the Messiah was to come.
Matthew also found a woman named Rahab in Jesus’ genealogy. Yes, that Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who believed in the God of Abraham and was saved by Joshua and his spies from the destruction of Jericho. Even Ruth, the Moabite widow from the shamed line of incestuous Lot, was in Jesus’ lineage. And so was King David, who became the father of Solomon by committing adultery and being an accomplice to murder and who late in life presided over the collapse of his kingdom and the disintegration of his family. Toward the end of Jesus’ genealogy Matthew highlights even Jeconiah and his brothers. You say you don’t remember them. Little wonder: they endured the infamy of being the last royal family of Judah before the exile, taken as prisoners by Nebuchadnezzar their captor.
You see, even as the Evangelist reviewed Jesus’ genealogy, he saw many who needed to hear good news of great joy. Jesus’ (adopted) ancestors were swindlers and usurpers, harlots, daughters of incest, and adulterers, exiles and prisoners: casualties of sin and death, one and all. Even in Jesus’ genealogy there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But that is just the point of the angels’ birth announcements. It is to sinners such as these that the angels bring good news of great joy.
It has been well said that good news is good news only to those who know they’re in a bad way. So again I ask, do you know anyone who needs good news? You and I should know at least one person like that, at least one person whom sin, suffering, and death have made lowly and humbled: that person goes by the name “Me,” “Myself,” or “I.”
The angels’ birth announcements brought good news of great joy to those who know themselves to be sons and daughters of sin and death. If we are to join the angels in rejoicing over the birth of Jesus, we must have ears to hear what the Spirit said through them.
This is part one of a three part series. Be sure to also read Christmas According to the Apostle Paul.