This is part-five in a series, read about Simeon’s response to the baby born in Bethlehem, the response of King Herod & the Sanhedrin, the response of the wise men, and of the shepherds who heard the angels’ message.
The Christmas story is traditionally a relatively easy story to tell: Mary & Joseph, no room at the inn, baby Jesus, shepherds, and wise men. You can expand it, if you’re feeling daring, to include King Herod; you can go back and include Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, and you can go forward too and include Simeon. But that’s the extent of the cast of characters for this particular story.
It was recently brought to my attention that I had completely forgotten a relatively important addition to this dramatis personae – the heraldic angel and his accompanying choir of praising angels. I think maybe I had somehow categorised them with the shepherds’ sheep, the manger, and Mary & Joseph’s donkey – really just a part of the scenery.
Yet angels play a vitally important role throughout the entire story of Christmas. Even before Jesus was conceived, an angel of the Lord was busy predicting His birth and preparing His way. Gabriel came to Zechariah and pronounced the birth of John the Baptist. Gabriel was also sent to Mary (and maybe to Joseph, as well) to announce the birth of Jesus. This was not a task for just any angel, either, for this was given to Gabriel, “who stands in the presence of God, and … was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news.” (Luke 1:19) Gabriel was also the angel God had sent to speak to Daniel to give him understanding of things he had seen (Daniel 9:21). So it stands to reason that Gabriel may also have been the angel who spoke to the shepherds in their field, for it appears his purpose was to proclaim God’s good news:
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favours!” – Luke 2:9-14
Here we have two responses to the birth of Jesus– proclamation and worship; responses that sometimes get lost in the narrative. Max Lucado makes an interesting point:
“The angels filled the night with light and the air with music, and, well, that’s it. They worshipped. Couldn’t they have done something more useful? Mary could have used a bed. Joseph would have benefited from an angelic escort back to Nazareth. Baby Jesus needed a bassinet.”
It’s an interesting point to make, for it makes us consider further the way in which Jesus was born. As Lucado points out, “They were angels. Didn’t they know better?”
But the point is, of course, that they did know better, for they knew Jesus best, and loved Him accordingly. Maybe they weren’t in on the whole plan – I think that if the angels knew what was set to happen 34-or-so years later they might not have been so confident in their praising. Then again, maybe they would have, for they loved their Lord dearly, and knew how much He loved us. “Those who had followed him the longest gave him the gift of worship. They placed their love on a pillow of praise and presented it to Jesus. They did that night. They do so still.”
These angels knew a thing or two about how to respond to the baby born in Bethlehem. So did the Psalmists:
“I will praise the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.” – Psalm 34:1
My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.” – Psalm 146:1-2
The angels, upon Jesus’ birth, did as David and the other psalmists had promised – they proclaimed the good news of His birth and praised His name. They worshipped Him. “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth to people He favours.” As I mentioned in my previous piece on the response of the shepherds, there were a lot of angels present – “a multitude of the heavenly host” – and they were all singing and praising and worshipping the birth of Jesus Christ.
What an amazing sight it must have been to witness those who loved Jesus best singing and proclaiming His birth.
Further, the work of the angels made the shepherds want to go immediately to find Jesus, and to tell others about His birth and the amazing things “the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15) The angels’ response to the baby born in Bethlehem engendered an immediate desire in others to know about whom the angels’ sung.
When you encounter the baby born in Bethlehem, what will others see? Will they see the indifference of the Sanhedrin? The selfish anger of King Herod? Or will your response to Jesus make others want to know what you are worshipping?
Will you proclaim the good news of His birth, as the angels did, and praise His name?