Pastor Craig Carter
During this Advent season we’re exploring “The Wonder of Christmas.” A wonder is defined as “a sense of awe, admiration, or amazement.”
The greatest wonder of Christmas is that it demonstrates the amazing love of God. Because of Christ’s birth, we no longer have to question God’s love for us. It was demonstrated in a tangible way when God’s Son, Jesus came and lived among us.
Most of the elements of the Nativity story are fairly ordinary and don’t evoke a great deal of wonder or amazement at first appearance. Last week when we studied “the wonder of a name,” we saw that the baby was given the fairly common name of Jesus. But what made it special is that the name Jesus means “God saves” and that’s exactly what Christ did and does.
The other components of the story include a lot of everyday, mundane things: a star, a manger, a mom, a dad, shepherds, and various animals. But there is at least one feature that is truly astonishing and extraordinary.
Listen to the way Luke describes the events surrounding Jesus’ birth:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:8-14 NLT)
I think it’s safe to say that the appearance of angels made this a wonderful and wonder-filled experience. This was certainly not an everyday occurrence!
That’s because angels are “out of this world” sort of creatures – spiritual beings that act as agents or messengers of God. Yet, they played a very prominent role in the Christmas story. First, angels announced the coming of the Messiah to Joseph and Mary, then they proclaimed His birth to shepherds, and later, they warned the Holy Family to escape Herod’s wrath and flee to Egypt. Today we’ll take a look at how they add to the wonder of Christmas.
Because of the ways in which they are commonly depicted in our modern world, many of us have some false, unbiblical notions about angels. Let me debunk a few myths…
First of all, angels are not humans who have been promoted to a higher status in heaven. It may sound nice and even bring comfort to say of a young child who dies, “I guess God just needed another little angel in heaven,” but it’s not true. Angels and humans are of an entirely different order.
That being said, angels are, like humans, created beings. According to the Old Testament Book of Job, they existed before the creation of our planet.
And while not human, they bear some similarities with us: they are able to think, feel, and display emotions.
Although they are spiritual beings (invisible), angels can manifest themselves in physical ways (sometimes even disguised as human beings). You may have even encountered one! Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! (Hebrews 13:2 NLT)
Secondly, contrary to popular opinion, angels don’t sit around heaven all day strumming their harps. Their primary function is to be God’s messengers between heaven and earth. In this way, they serve the Lord and support His people
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14 NIV)
They advance God’s purposes in our lives by protecting, defending, delivering, assisting, guiding, and warning us.
Lastly, angels are not the cute, innocent cherubs we normally see portrayed in art, nor are they like the bumbling, lovable Clarence of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame.
They have superior power than us – yet they are not omnipotent. They possess higher knowledge than us – yet they are not omniscient. They enjoy greater mobility than us – yet they are not omnipresent.
In terms of ability, angels rank somewhere between human beings and God – superior to us, yet inferior to Him.
In Scripture, whenever humans become aware of angels’ presence, they sense a higher power and thus normally respond in fear and reverence. It’s why the first thing of angels’ mouths is usually, “Do not be afraid.”
So angels are not figments of our imagination or fictional characters. Scripture mentions them nearly 300 times and they are as real as you and me. They enjoy special access to heaven and the things of God.
And since they had front rows seats when Jesus was born, they have something to tell us about the wonder of Christmas and how we can experience it for ourselves.
The angels show us the wonder of Christmas because they…
1) Know the One of whom they speak
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in our society who does not realize that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Even unbelievers know the name of Jesus and are at least vaguely familiar with him.
But there is a big difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing that person. My wife and kids really know me, they don’t just know of me or about me. I’m afraid that, in our culture, Jesus has become another celebrity that we know about but don’t really know.
Yet, Christmas shows us that God wants us to truly know Him and that’s why He sent His Son Jesus into the world.
So 20th century evangelist and author, Leonard Ravenhill, is absolutely correct when he says, “It is important not only to know the Word of God but to know the God of the Word.” And the way we do that is by getting to know Jesus, the Living Word of God.
It’s what the Apostle Paul is trying to say in his letter to the Philippians: I think of everything else as worth nothing. It is so much better to know Christ Jesus my Lord…I was made right with God by faith in Christ. I want to know Him better. I want to have the same power in my life that raised Jesus from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-10 NLV)
Notice he doesn’t say that he wants to know about Christ, but rather to know Him – personally and intimately (and to grow in that knowledge – “to know Him better”). That’s how the angels relate to Christ.
Remember, unlike the others who first saw Jesus when He was born, the angels were with Him previously in heaven. They were there when He spoke the universe into existence. They were there when God dispatched Him to go to Planet Earth to save His people. Long before His arrival in Bethlehem, the angels were His servants and friends. So they announced His birth with joy and gladness because they were excited that others would get to know the One whom they knew and loved.
If you and I want to experience the wonder of Christmas we have to learn from the angels. So, I ask, “Do you really know the One who came to us in a manger?” Not, do you know the story of His birth? Not, do you know all about what He did during His days on earth? But, do you really know Him?
The way you get to know Jesus is by inviting Him into your life by faith.
Perhaps the words of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” say it best.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
The angels tell the great glad tidings that we can know the One of whom they speak. Isn’t that incredibly awesome and wonderful? We can know, really know, the God who created us and all that exists.
2) Speak of the One whom they know
The angels had some “inside” information about the One who was being born in Bethlehem and they wanted others to share it with others.
“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10b-12 NLT)
The angels told others who Jesus was (Savior, Messiah, Lord) and they said where He could be found (in a manger in Bethlehem). Once we come to know the One who came in human flesh to be our Lord and Savior, we will want to tell others about Him – who He is and how they can experience Him.
I’m afraid we make this witnessing thing way too hard. Let me give you a simple way to evangelize – just brag about Jesus. If you and I don’t brag on Jesus, who will?
I had a friend in Montgomery who oftentimes would introduce me to others and immediately tell them that I was the finest preacher he knew. I’d say, “Thanks, I appreciate that.” He’d respond, “Hey, I’m not bragging. If it’s true, it’s not bragging!”
When it comes to telling others about Jesus, it’s not bragging because it’s true. And that’s exactly what the angels did.
Interestingly, while the angels pronounced the arrival of the Messiah on the night of His birth, nowhere in Scripture does it say they serve as preachers of the gospel. That task is reserved for humans (i.e. we who are saved are to help others be saved).
But the angels assist us in that endeavor. The primary way in which they help us is by encouraging us. For one, they tell us not to be afraid (“Fear not…”). For another, they encourage us to act with a sense of urgency. Repeatedly, in the New Testament, the angels say to Jesus’ followers: “Get up…go quickly!” On one occasion, upon opening the gates of the jail for some imprisoned apostles, the angel said, “Go…and tell the people everything about this new life.” (Acts 5:19b-20 CEV)
So, when it comes to speaking to others about Jesus, we need not be afraid nor do we need to delay.
And, once we share with other people and they respond in faith and come to know Jesus themselves, the angels are the first to celebrate. “The angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10 GNT)
The good news of great joy the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth was not for them. It was “for all people.”
The angels don’t need a Savior, but you and I do…and so does everyone else. We can help others discover the wonder of Christmas when, like the angels do, we speak of the One we know and tell folks about Him.
Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be, simply talk about the One you’ve come to know and love – Jesus Christ our Lord.
Tell folks what He has done for you (i.e. brag on Him).
Share with them where they can find Him (i.e. invite them to worship with us).
Know that the angels stand ready to assist you and to rejoice in your victories.