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Angels and JOY


Advent Message #4 - 2018

Angels We Have Heard on High. What a beautiful carol that reminds us of something that happened the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Specifically, what angels announced to some shepherds in a field near Jesus’ birthplace. 

We are going to think about what angels said that night. But first, let’s remember that angels were heard many other times in the events that make up Christmas, in each case  concentrating on the joy that surrounded each of the angel-centered announcements.

The first Christmas-related angelic statement was made to Zechariah, who was a Jewish priest. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had enjoyed a good life, but they had been, throughout their marriage, disappointed they had never had a child. At the time we are told of them, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both old. Much too old for them to have a child.

One day, as Zechariah performed his priestly duties, an angel appeared to him. The angel identified himself as Gabriel. Gabriel told Zechariah that a miracle was going to happen - that Elizabeth was going to conceive, that she would give birth to a boy, that they would name the boy John, and that John was going to have a very important role. John would be the one to go before the Savior, preparing people for the Savior so they would be more likely to listen to and accept Him.

Zechariah mentioned to Gabriel he and Elizabeth were both well beyond child-bearing years. The angel was upset by the comment, which led to Zechariah being struck silent.

Guess what. What Gabriel told Zechariah did indeed occur. Elizabeth did conceive. She did give birth to a boy. The boy was, with Zechariah’s approval, named John, after which Zechariah was given back his voice. As an adult, John did indeed have a ministry of preparing people for the Savior.

The joy? Remember the acrostic we have highlighted throughout this year’s Christmas season. The acrostic of Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. 

The joy was that Zechariah saw the fulfillment of Gabriel’s announcement, for which he praised God, putting Him first.

The joy was that Zechariah raised John in such a way John was ready for his ministry of preparing people for the Savior, and when John was an adult, Zechariah allowed him to have that kind of ministry. Therefore, many people were helped, which means others were important to Zechariah.

The joy was that Zechariah had the wonder of being a father, which he had hoped to be his entire adult life.

The second Christmas-related angelic statement was made to Mary, who was a young woman - a virgin - who lived in Nazareth. A woman who was betrothed when an angel - Gabriel again - appeared to her with a message. The message was that she had been selected by God to be the mother of the Savior, that she would conceive, that she would give birth to a boy, that the boy would be named Jesus, that Jesus was going to grow up to be the Savior of the world.

Remember Mary was not yet married when Gabriel spoke to her. That means she was still a virgin. So how, she asked, was she to conceive?

Gabriel told Mary not to worry about it. He explained the conceiving would happen through divine intervention. Her role was to let it happen and then raise the one who would be the Savior.

Guess what. What Gabriel told Mary did indeed occur. She did conceive. She did give birth to a boy. The boy was named Jesus. Jesus did indeed become the Savior.

The joy? Mary agreed to God’s plan. To do that caused her problems. To be pregnant before being married caused her to be rejected and ridiculed and shamed. Then raising the Savior of the world and then seeing Him mistreated and killed would be difficult things to do. But if that is what God had for her to do, that is what she would do, which is a wonderful example of putting God first.

By being obedient, she was the way the Savior came to earth. The Savior people then and since and even now need, which is a wonderful example of putting others above herself.

Obedience that also helped her as she knew that forevermore, she would be called blessed.

The third Christmas-related angelic statement was made to Joseph. It came one time when Joseph, the one to whom Mary was betrothed, had fallen asleep. The angel, who this time is not identified, appeared to Joseph in a dream.

The dream came right after Joseph decided to end his betrothal to Mary. It appeared Mary had been unfaithful, which deeply hurt Joseph. His plan was to divorce Mary quietly, so as to avoid causing her any more problems than she would already have because of her pregnancy, but he did not wish to stay with her.

Then, in the dream, the angel said this to Joseph. “Do not be afraid to make Mary your wife because, just as she has tried to explain, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She has not been unfaithful, so do not break the betrothal. Stay with Mary and help her raise her baby, who is ‘God’s presence with us.’”

What the angel said to Joseph in the dream did not make sense, but guess what. Joseph did as he was commanded. He stayed with Mary. He did make Mary his wife. He did have the privilege of helping to raise the Savior of the world.

The joy? Joseph agreed to God’s plan, despite the problems he would face, including being accused of being immoral when he was not and being laughed at by those who would not understand why he would stay with Mary when she was pregnant early, and also having the overwhelming responsibility of helping raise the Savior. But if that is what God had for him to do, that is what he would do, which is a wonderful example of putting Jesus first.

By being obedient, Joseph gave Jesus a stable childhood, which helped prepare Jesus to be the Savior people then and since and even now needs, which is a wonderful example of putting others above himself.

Obedience that also helped Joseph as did indeed have the privilege of helping raise the Savior.

Remember joy is not always or necessarily happiness. Mary did face problems. Joseph often had to take drastic actions to keep Jesus safe. He also had to know when it was the correct thing to do to let Jesus do what He needed to do.

Then, which brings us to today’s passage, Luke 2:8-14. 

There were shepherds in a field near Bethlehem the night Jesus was born in that little town. Shepherds who, like all other shepherds at least in that country at that time, were tired and bored and lonely. A group disrespected by others because theirs was a dirty job.

One night, while the shepherds were once again keeping watch over the sheep under their care, an angel suddenly appeared to them. 

That seems to be the way angels worked. Gabriel suddenly appeared to Zechariah and then Mary. An angel suddenly appeared to Joseph. Now an angel suddenly appeared to the shepherds.

As with all the other appearances, there was fear and confusion when the angel appeared. As with the others, the first thing the angel said was, “Be not afraid.”

Why? Because, the angel continued, “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come all people.”

What critical words. Not just news, but good news. Positive, encouraging news. News people need and like to hear. Joy. Great joy. For, not just some, but all people. How inclusive that phrase is.

To you - the shepherds, as rejected, dirty, lonely, bored, and tired as they were - to them - and to everyone else, as in all  people - “is born this day in the city of David, which was the nearby town of Bethlehem, a Savior.” A Savior. The one who would free people from their sins. A Savior, “Christ the Lord.” Christ means Messiah. Lord means the ruler, which He is for all who accept Him as the Messiah.

As mentioned, shepherds were not respected. They were not considered very important in society in general. So it must have been difficult for them to understand why they would be told by an angel about the Savior. 

But then they were joined by others, identified in Luke as a multitude of the Heavenly host. Thousands, maybe millions filled the sky above the shepherds. What a sight that must have been as those who had gone to Heaven and no doubt many, many more angels were gathered. Together they began praising God. What a sound that must have been. Unbelievably loud, but not in a deafening way. Rather an overwhelmingly pleasant way.

The multitude of the Heavenly host began praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will among men with whom He is pleased,” which was a wonderful prediction of what the Savior, who had just been born in Bethlehem, would offer. Peace and good will. Two gifts given to all who please Him. Please Him by accepting Him as the Savior He had been born to become.

As soon as the Heavenly host was done with their praising, when they and the angel returned to Heaven, the shepherds decided to go see the baby. While there they shared with Mary and Joseph all they had heard about Jesus. That He is the Savior who would offer peace and good will. They then returned to their sheep. Along the way they told everyone they met about Jesus - about the Savior. They told others with great enthusiasm.

All of which are examples of joy.

By leaving their sheep they showed Jesus was more important than their sheep. In that way, they put Jesus first.

By telling Mary and Joseph and then others what they had heard and seen, they made sure those they met knew the Savior they and we need had arrived. In that way, they made the needs of others important to them.

Themselves? It at least seems likely the shepherds’ lives were changed. No longer did they have to be lonely and bored and rejected. They had seen the Savior. They had met the Savior. They knew the Savior.

Guess what. We, too, can meet and know the Savior announced by angels to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. We can meet Him and know Him by doing what Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph did, which is to obey God, in our case to make Jesus our Savior, Christ, and Lord. We can meet Him and know Him by doing what the shepherds did, which is to go to Him. For us, it is not a long journey because Jesus is everywhere. We simply have to open our hearts to Him.

And you know what happens when we meet Him and know Him? Te answer is in Luke 15, where the reaction among angels is twice recorded. Verse 7. “There is joy in Heaven when one sinner repents.” Verse 10. “There is joy before angels of God over one sinner [every sinner] who repents.”

Those are words spoken by Jesus.

To put them in context, first, at the start of Luke 15, Jesus told a parable about a lost sheep that represents anyone who has not accepted Jesus as the Savior. If you have not accepted Him, the lost sheep represents you. In the parable, the shepherd - in a spiritual sense Jesus - searches for the lost sheep, being diligent about it. When the sheep is found, not only the one who searched rejoices. So, too, does everyone else rejoice

If you have not accepted Jesus, know He is searching for you. When you accept, there will be great joy felt by Jesus and by angels in Heaven.

Then, in another parable, Jesus told about a woman losing a silver coin, representing one-tenth of her life savings. The coin was therefore very precious to her. That is how precious we are to Jesus, represented in the woman searching for the coin, doing so diligently. When it was found, not only the woman rejoiced. Her friends and neighbors joined her in rejoicing.

Again, if you have not accepted Jesus, know He is searching for you. When you accept, there will be great joy felt by Him and by angels in Heaven.

What a positive thing to be saved. What a happy thought. However - not to change the mood, but to put Jesus’ birth in perspective, as in the fact that He came to suffer and die to the point of becoming the Savior - let’s remember another time angels were involved with Jesus. A time recorded in Matthew 4.

In Matthew 4, Jesus had just been baptized and had the Holy Spirit empower Him. The very first thing the Spirit did was lead Jesus into a nearby wilderness, where Jesus fasted for 40 days.

The purpose was not to be cruel to Jesus, but to provide time for Jesus to pray for the direction and the strength He needed for His upcoming ministry.

After the 40-day fast, Satan went to Jesus and tempted Him, doing so three times. Three times, the devil tried to get Jesus to turn away from His ministry. To turn away from it even before it started.

In one temptation, Satan invited Jesus to change stones on the ground into bread so He could eat, which would have satisfied Him after the days of fasting. It would also show Jesus He could easily feed everyone else in the world. That temptation was to persuade Jesus to bribe people into being loyal to Him.

In another temptation, the devil took Jesus to the peak of the Jewish Temple and invited Him to jump off. When Jesus would not be hurt, which was an Old Testament promise, people would be so impressed they would be eager to follow Him.

In yet another temptation, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised to give them to Jesus, which would allow Him to dictate people’s allegiance. The kingdoms would be His if Jesus would simply bow down to and worship the devil.

Three times Jesus was tempted. All three times, Jesus withstood the temptations, refusing to fall to Satan’s ploys, choosing instead to follow God’s plan for how He would become the Savior.

All three times, Jesus survived, but it was apparently an exhausting experience. Verse 11. When the devil left Jesus, “Behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” 

In that way, the angels experienced joy by putting the needs of Jesus first, and by doing what they could to assure Jesus would stay strong, which, when Jesus became the Savior, helped others. By serving Jesus, the angels fulfilled their calling, which satisfied them.

The Christmas challenge is this. Accept the one whose way was prepared by John. Accept the one born of the virgin Mary. Accept the one who was raised by Joseph. Accept the one told about by shepherds. Accept the one described over and over and over and over again by angels as the one who would be the Savior, saving people from their sins. Make sure you are among those who are saved, which will be pleasing to the Lord, joyous to angels, and eternally beneficial to you.

The closing song for today is Angels We Have Heard on High. We will sing verses 1 and 3, with a couple word changes in verse 3.

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains,

And the mountains in reply

Echo back their joyous strains.

Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Come to Jesus Christ and see

Him whose worth the angels sing;

Come adore, on bended knee,

Christ, the Lord, the eternal King.

Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Lord, all that the angels sang and said leading up to and including Your birth is true. You are the Savior, the giver of peace and good will, the source of forgiveness.

How wonderful to know who You are. How impactful to accept You. What a privilege to celebrate and tell about You. Help us to always put You first, others second, then ourselves. Doing that, help us to be joyful. Amen.

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