4 December 2016

The Angels’ Plea for Peace Luke 2:9-14

Last week we lit the first Advent candle, and thought about the hope found in many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled with pinpoint accuracy.

Jesus was well signposted all the way through the Bible timeline. He was clearly a Son who was sent, the one who as our suffering Saviour, turned around the judgement upon human kind that God had made. Christ is our hope, and this is real hope indeed. On this second Sunday of Advent, our focus today is on the Angels’ Plea for Peace. The Christmas story is saturated with the supernatural, and we can miss the meaning if we just skim the season superficially.

So let’s look at the mysterious and miraculous elements surrounding the birth of Jesus. In his book called, “Rumours of another World,” Philip Yancey writes, “The Bible presents a…view of reality that encompasses both the familiar visible world and an invisible world that coexists as a kind of parallel universe” Angels appear in more books of the Bible than they don’t, over 300 references, and angels have three primary responsibilities.

They magnify God. Their primary role is to adore God. Nehemiah 9:6 says the multitudes of heaven worship God, and Job 38:7 recalled that at creation “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”

They are messengers of God. The word “angel,” literally means messenger. They do God’s bidding. Sometimes its good news, like announcing the birth of Christ. Our carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” describes how angels “herald” or proclaim.

But, they can also bring bad news. 2 Thessalonians 1:7 talks about things that will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” The Book of Revelation is full of avenging angels.

They minister to people. Hebrews 1:14 puts it best: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

Mostly, angels minister invisibly behind the scenes. Sometimes, they break into our world, appearing briefly, for a specific purpose. They they often look just like humans. Listen to Hebrews 13:2:  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

We cannot exclude angels from the Christmas story, because it begins and ends with them. The Incarnation is so incredible, so earth shaking that only angels could be entrusted as the appropriate messengers. No other event in the Bible had so many angelic messengers – it was that important!

There are some places between the natural and supernatural worlds where the separation is very thin, and the angels make an appearance in our world. Let’s look at how four Christmas characters responded to these angelic encounters. Imagine you are hearing these things for the first time, even though you probably have heard the nativity story many times over. When this happened, 400 years has elapsed since God had last spoken through the prophet Malachi. 400 years they have waited, pleaded, hoped for God to break the silence.

Angels suddenly appear without warning, and they bring a message of huge implication. People are first afraid of the angels – a sense of fear and wonder blasts through the blasé and predictable. Understanding this was built into the very worship fabric of ancient Israel. The Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim carved into it. Prophets like Isaiah came face-to-face with seraphim who cried out in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” With the doorposts shaking and the temple filled with smoke, Isaiah cried out in fear “Woe is me!” Knowing they have this kind of affect on humans, some of their first words are: “Do not be afraid.” Angels are never to be adored because they are incidental why they appear. Psalm 103:20 says that they are “mighty ones who do His bidding.” We should never seek encounters with angels nor worship them.

In Revelation 22:8-9, the Apostle John is overcome by all that he has heard and seen: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel…But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’” God’s angles don’t draw attention to themselves. They get our attention, but always for God’s sake. When Biblical angels discharge their duty and deliver their tidings, they go away, the focus is not them.

1 Timothy 3:16 is an early Christmas carol – we read these words: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

Angels were present at Christ’s Temptation (Matthew 4:11), in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), at His Resurrection (Mark 16:5), at His Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) and they will accompany Him at His Second Coming (Matthew 25:31). angels were very involved during His first advent. Let’s look at four different reactions to angels we find in Matthew and Luke.

Denied and doubted (Luke 1:5-25).

Only two angels are named in the Bible: Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son named John. Luke 1:7 indicates that: “they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” Zechariah was a priest and when it was his turn to serve in the Temple to burn incense, the angel of the Lord appeared and verse 12 tells us that he was “gripped with fear.” The angel comforted him and said in verse 13, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.” The angel then described how John’s purpose would be to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Zechariah had prayed for a child for years. Now God sends an angel to say ‘your prayers are being answered’ and he doubts, so the Lord takes away his speech, until the baby is born. Many months of quiet, to review what has happened. Eight days after the birth, his voice returns and first words out his mouth are a song he sings which includes the words: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and redeemed his people.” He ends that song with the words of Isaiah 9:2 about how his new son will “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Not sure but surrendered (Luke 1:26-38).

Six months later, Gabriel appears to a virgin named Mary. Mary is greatly troubled and the angel says: “Do not be afraid…” Mary is told she will become pregnant, bear a son, and must call him Jesus. (In v32) Gabriel tells her a little about the baby she will give birth to: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…” Zechariah denied and doubted, and Mary was simply confused how all this could happen because she is a virgin. Gabriel gives her more details that must have been very difficult for a teenager to comprehend, then Mary responds with a servant-heart (verse 38: “I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me as you have said.” She want sure how it was all going to work but she surrendered anyway.

Accepted and acted (Matthew 1:18-25).

Joseph needed divine intervention after he found out Mary was pregnant — he knew he wasn’t the father. What was he going to do? A righteous man, he determined to end the engagement quietly. Before he can, Joseph gets a visit. Matthew 1:20-21: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

An unnamed angel fills in some of the blanks for Joseph and settles Joseph’s anxious heart by saying, “Do not be afraid.” He is being asked to raise a child that is not his. He’s given a glimpse of the glory of this child — this boy will be the Saviour, fulfilling the prophecy of a “sure sign” from Isaiah 7:14. Joseph immediately accepts his assignment we read, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Joseph had two more encounters with angels, several months later, which he accepted and acted upon.

Matthew 2:13-14: “When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”

Some time later, after another angelic encounter, he was told return to Israel because Herod had died, and he obeyed. Matthew 2:21: “So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” Zechariah denied and doubted. Mary wasn’t sure but she surrendered. Joseph accepted and acted. There’s one more reaction…

Believed and broadcasted (Luke 2:8-20).

More angelic intervention happens amongst a few shepherd, just out doing their job. Luke 2:8-20: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

In everyday life, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared. Into the darkness of a silent night came the brightness of the glory of the Lord. In fact, the word “terrified” means they were alarmed and agitated.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.” Once again, an angel has to tell humans to not overreact, to be calm. Why? Because the messenger was bringing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people. That day in the town of David a Saviour had been born and he is Christ the Lord. That there would be a sign — they’d find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”

The shepherds are trying to comprehend what they are hearing and seeing when (verse 13): “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God…”

It means the heavenly host came unexpectedly and without warning. The phrase “great company” means there were so many angels it was impossible to count them, the sky was filled with a multitude of mighty messengers. The phrase **“heavenly host” ** refers to the Lord’s army. The shepherds watched heaven open up and saw hundreds and thousands of angelic beings worshipping God.

The angels sing (in verse 14): “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” I hope you see that peace comes after praising. We must put God and His glory first, then peace will come.

Christmas can seem a magical time, but it has empty meaning apart from knowing the Christ of Christmas.

The shepherds have witnessed the angels displaying unbridled adoration and praise, and (in verse 15): “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

They were unanimous in their decision to head to Bethlehem. Verse 16 shows how their fear has been replaced with faith and then faith become action: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” No delay. Even thought it meant abandoning their sheep.

The shepherds became messengers of the message they had received from the angel (in verse 17): “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.” With hearts filled with gratitude, these men broke out into praise in verse 20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

There are angels everywhere and I believe they are still doing God’s work today. Whether we see or hear them doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we hear and respond to God’s message.

Don’t be like Zechariah and allow your doubts to delay a decision. Did you know that angels are very curious about Christmas? In fact, they have studied salvation and are amazed by it. 1 Peter 1:12 says that “Even angels long to look into these things.” Mary wasn’t sure about everything but she surrendered anyway. Luke 2:11 says that a Saviour is born to you. Have you personally received Jesus as your Saviour, even if you’re a bit uncertain? When you repent and receive all that Jesus has for you, Luke 15:10 tells us “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.” Heaven is a present that must be received; a gift that must be opened. So do you accept and will you act? Joseph was someone who put feet to his faith. This Advent, let us all do what we can to put Christ back into Christmas, to focus on the message which angels in their tens of thousands brought to those shepherds. Let’s make Christmas more about its origin than what greedy and superficial mankind has made it become. Amen.