The drama of Jesus' birth at Christmas introduces us to a very diverse cast of characters who bring us one of the most beloved stories of all time.
The stage is vast -- covering quite a bit of territory in biblical Israel. It encompasses the power and might of Jerusalem's temple and the sleepy hilltop town of Nazareth where a young woman, home alone, welcomes a heavenly visitor who sets the whole story in motion. The plot moves from Nazareth in Galilee to the little town of Bethlehem in the land of Judah where the dreams of prophets and message of angels are realized.
But the drama of Christmas not only involves those on Earth, but also quite an impressive heavenly troupe as well.
Earlier this year I wrote a column on the resurgence of angels and received much positive feedback from readers. So today let's consider the angels of Christmas.
One need only view the wide variety of angels on greeting cards, or consider the care in choosing the appropriate angel to crown Christmas trees, or the precision in placing angels in our manger or creche scenes at home or in church to discover that Christmas without angels just isn't Christmas.
The stories of Jesus' infancy and childhood contain evidence of the activity of angels. In the opening moments of the gospel according to Luke, an angel informs Zechariah about the birth of his son John the Baptist, and the same angel foretells the birth of Mary's son, Jesus. Later Luke has angels announcing the good news to the shepherds in the fields.
In Matthew's account, an angel advises Joseph to accept Mary's pregnancy. An angel warns Joseph of the danger he's in from Herod, and later returns to give Joseph the "all clear,"to leave the temporary exile in Egypt and to return to Israel.
For Christians, the stories of the angels in the life of Jesus have a power which no sermon, university lecture, television or radio broadcast could ever have. When we read the story of his birth of a virgin mother, it speaks to us of the utter kindness and generosity of God, and of his creative power that draws new life out of empty wombs and barren tombs.
When we read the story of the turmoil the child Jesus brought into the lives of Mary, Joseph, the Magi, Herod, the whole of Jerusalem, and all the babes of Bethlehem -- we are forced to ask ourselves whether the risen Christ challenges and moves our lives in the same way.
When we read the story of the shepherds and their vision of angelic choirs, we discover anew how God can break into our life as well. When we read the story of that incredible good news from heaven -- of those words of "glory in the highest and peace on earth," we hear an echo of the risen Christ who would say those very things to his adult disciples and continues to say to the whole church: "My peace I give to you."
When we remember and relive the angelic roles in Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the veil that separates us from the world of the spirit is drawn back. These angelic beings stir awesome responses within us. The powerful drama of Christmas may well give us one of our deepest glimpses into the heart of God and the mind of his son Jesus Christ, who comes to pitch his tent among us at Christmas.