A reflection for Christmas Day
Around us, at Christmas, in carols and in culture, we are made particularly aware of traditional beliefs in the supernatural messengers of heaven. Those who are
Angels from the realms of glory,
and wing their flight o’er all the earth;
those who sang creation’s story
and now proclaim Messiah’s birth
Or those who, like the guardian angel (second class) in It’s a Wonderful Life, are saviours – in very soggy smocks in his case – of humans threatened by trouble and danger. Or those, like the characters played by Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens who, complete with fiery sword or flaming automobile, seek to avert global destruction. We rarely imagine the kind of angelic beings that the book of the prophet Ezekiel describes, who are wheels within wheels, and faces upon faces, and eyes upon eyes. But at Christmas we do hear tales and we do hear the songs of angels.
Luke’s gospel talks of an angel who appears in order to show God’s glory on earth, and to speak words, first, of comfort and peace, and then of good news for all the people. This good news – this gospel – is that to all people is born a Saviour, a prophet and king anointed by God – a messiah – and a Lord for us.
Forget now the images sweetly sung to us by choirboys in ruffs; forget now George Bailey and Clarence Odbody; forget Aziraphale and Crowley; and even, if you’re able, those alarming visions of Ezekiel. For an angel is made by their message: and indeed, angels in the words of the scriptures themselves are messengers, supernatural and natural normal humans, who become the messengers of God. Messengers who proclaim God’s words and God’s love for humanity by those words. They proclaim freedom from fear; the good news of God’s salvation and power; and God’s peace, which is more complete and more challenging than a simple absence of stress or conflict.
And so the Christmas story contains a whole host of angels, far beyond the one who brings news to the shepherds, and the heavenly choir that sings
Glory to God in the Highest Heaven
and on earth peace among those whom he favours
The Christmas story contains those angels who were also shepherds, who received a message from God and made it known both at the manger and on their return to their fields: a message which they gave even to Mary, the mother of the baby in the manger, and to all to those who heard – including us who now hear – the way that they glorified and praised God for all they had witnessed. The shepherds were human angels to the world of the birth of Jesus.
They were witnesses to the peace on earth sung by the heavenly host. The idea that we can associate peace with the birth of Christ might seem a little odd, for when do babies really offer a contribution to their parent’s peace and rest? The cry of the Christ child echoed from the manger, and I am sure that Joseph and Mary’s peace was disturbed frequently by night feeds and nappies. But the cry of that baby was a cry into the world of the peace of God that is disruptive, and the peace of God that challenges structures of power and violence. The peace which continually cries out in the healing, and teaching, and death, and resurrection, of the man that child grew to become. The cry of that baby came to crack the wickedness of the world with its own message of what God’s true peace is, and can be for us.
The child himself is the true gain and fruit of the message of the angels, as Martin Luther put it. The Christ, himself, is too a messenger – an angel – but a messenger not only from God, but one who is God. A messenger whose message is fulfilled in himself. A messenger to us, still, here and now, that God came to be with us, and to change our lives by living our life. That he is
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel
The Christmas story also expands to draw in those angels who are heirs to that message; and who ensure that in our own time the words spoken to the shepherds, and the song of the shepherds, and the cry of Christ too, still echo throughout the world.
For whenever those words are retold, the Christmas story goes on, and whoever retells them becomes a human angel to the world of the birth of Jesus. Whenever the first words of Luke’s gospel are read, and whenever carols are sung, whether that is in St Mary’s church or down by the bar in the Prince of Wales, we who speak or sing are becoming angels too. We are proclaiming still God’s message of peace, in the fullest sense, and we are witnesses to the birth in human flesh of God himself.
For now we are still able to proclaim the hope that
to us a child is born and to us a son is given
and it is for us to proclaim Messiah’s birth to all the earth.
This angelic message transforms us, as we receive it and pass it on, into messengers of heaven: proclaiming freedom from fear; the good news of God’s salvation and power; and God’s own birth as the heaven-born Prince of Peace.
So, this Christmas Day, let us listen out for the words of angels around us, and join our voices to become one with their song that cries
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”