In the stories of the first Christmas, we hear extraordinary news of the child of God becoming human, God becoming human, and living amongst us in our physical, tangible world, and sharing in all that it means to be a human being – the joy and the sadness, the celebration and the pain.
It is an extraordinary thing. A unique moment in time
when heaven breaks into earth,
when transcendence intersects with our immanence – breaking the boundaries we set apart – and in turn making everything more and different than we might ever hope.
That was the extraordinary event of more than 2000 years ago, but it is also an event for now, for us, for earth today.
All the way through that narrative we hear the important role of the angels. The angel Gabriel came and asked Mary to be the mother of God. Then, when Joseph planned to divorce Mary after finding she was pregnant, another angel came to reassure him and give him the courage to stay with her.
When Jesus was born, it was angels again who appeared to the Shepherds, calling them in from the hillsides to come and see. And it was angels who sang of Jesus’ birth in the heavens, encapsulating its message of hope in those words:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace.
Angels are common to many of our world religions, and several Angels are shared by name in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
There is a recognition across our world faiths, and particularly in the Christian narratives about Christmas, that angels often appear suddenly and surprisingly,
and they bring us messages which can change our paths, or help us to see things afresh, or bring us comfort and hope.
In the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence Oddbody, a second-class angel, is sent to save the life of George Bailey. Clarence had no wings, no angelic glow. He was an ‘almost’ ordinary man who arrives in George’s life and transforms a situation that seemed utterly hopeless.
The Bible tells us that angels can often appear this way, as quite ordinary people, sometimes entirely unrecognised, and often as visitors or travellers.
Still today, we find that many people from all walks of life, people of faith or not, talk of seeing or meeting angels, often at particularly significant moments in their lives. Perhaps we can think of a time when we have been stopped in our tracks by someone we’ve met, someone who in a moment, a word, an act of kindness, or even of challenge, have transformed our situation,
lifted us up when we were down,
offered hope, a hand, a hug in a bleak situation
or wisdom when we were feeling lost.
We need the visits and the messages of the angels as much today as we ever have.
Christmas is a time of great joy and celebration.
It can be a time when we re-evaluate and remind ourselves of what is truly important to us.
It may also sometimes point us to the sad or painful places that we all have in our lives, and for some it is a very hard time indeed whether because they or we are alone, hurting, far from home or without the basic necessities of life.
In a world where many are isolated, lonely and in all kinds of need, we need angels to call us from our hillsides or skyscrapers, churches or homes, wherever we may be, to be present to one another, as a human family.
We often need angels to bring us comfort, but we also need them to bring us ever fresh eyes and courage, to recognise the glory of Christ found in human form and so to stand together against the injustice and oppression of every form, that disfigures, harms and hurts the God-givenness of each person and of our created world.
Perhaps as we notice the many angels who visited very ordinary people throughout the Christmas story, we may begin to notice the angels who intersect with our lives bringing fresh news, new beginnings, transformations, calling, wrestling, courage, joy and more…
May the joy of the angels be yours this Christmas time,
and may their message of peace and new life in Christ-here-with-us be for all the world.