“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Luke 2: 8-10
This time of year we will hear a lot about angels. There are angel ornaments on the tree, angel hymns, angels in the children’s nativity play and lighting candles on Christmas Eve. It is no wonder the mystery of the season is full of angels. Angels play the biggest parts in the Christmas story. An angel gives news to Mary and then Joseph. Then the shepherds hear the angel proclaim that Jesus will be born and suddenly the sky is filled with singing angels. I have seen paintings that depict the light streaming from angels breaking up the darkness and illuminating the shepherds’ fields. In this sermon I would like to encourage you to be angelic and do what the angels did in the Christmas story- give courage in the face of fear. Give good news. The world needs it.
A baby being born is the time for good news to be spread. There is a whole industry built around news of a baby’s birth. There are even bubble gum cigars in blue and pink for non-smokers to distribute. Anyone witnessing a birth loves to talk about how exciting it was. It is so uplifting. As the news is given, many times people mention that birth is a miracle from God.
Have you ever given good news that literally lifts another to a brighter place? I guess the question is, have you ever been like an angel?
Recently I spoke with a church member who was about to visit his mother. She had received a scary diagnosis that had signaled the beginning of the end of her life. He wanted some guidance on how to talk with her about it. I could tell that he had been in prayer about what to say. His words of hope were angelic. You may have had a similar task. Do you remember a time when God used you to lift another to a brighter place? Your message may have begun with “Don’t be afraid” and continued with news of hope. Or simply your loving presence gave a message that only an angel could give. That is an example of angelic characteristics. Have you ever thought of yourself as being angelic? You may be remembering your grandmother saying something like, “Be an angel and bring me that please.” Granted, at that point in life we seem more angelic than any other, but I maintain that God uses you even now to accomplish missions of good news. You may choose to deny that, or explain it away as Ebenezer Scrooge did of the ghost of Marley. Remember how Ebenezer dismissed what he saw? The ghost of Marley appeared right before him but he still did not believe it. I love how Scrooge answered the
ghost when the ghost asked why he didn’t trust his senses, “Because,” Scrooge replied, “because even a little thing affects my senses. A slight disorder of the stomach turns my eyes into cheats. You, ghost, may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.” Following that Scrooge embarked upon a life-changing transformation into a new being. That story is a classic reminder that the Scrooge within us can be changed. Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” Just as a baby does not like to leave the safety of the mother’s womb and open its eyes to the light, we are reluctant to even consider the spiritual world because it may feel safer to keep our eyes closed.
The writer, Phillip Yancey’s book, Rumors of Another World, mentions thin places, where the natural and supernatural worlds meet at their narrowest point with only a thin veil to separate them. We might consider angelic activity as examples of thin places, in the Bible and in our lives. Yancey writes that there are two ways of looking at the world. “One takes the world apart, while the other seeks to connect and put together.” He goes on to say, “We live in an age that excels at the first and falters at the second.”
We have the potential to help put the world back together. Fear tears the world apart, and the angel’s first words, “Be not afraid” remind us that giving someone courage is our first step. Have you ever told a loved one not to be afraid? Is there someone in your life who needs to hear those words right now? Giving someone courage in the face of illness, loss, or tragedy may seem to be a difficult task, but you can do it. Your presence, listening ears, and a few lines of understanding and faith may be all is takes to pull someone back from the edge of fear. You may have the unique key to helping someone because of your relationship. Maybe you can recall a moment when you used that key; get ready to use that key again. Look for an opportunity to shine light into the darkness of despair. Be an angel and breathe new hope into life. Accept this holiday job from God and be a messenger of grace. Let God’s miracle be seen in you.
Henry Nouwen wrote in his book Spiritual Journeys, “One thing is becoming clear to me: God became flesh for us to show us that the way to come in touch with God’s love is the human way, in which the limited and partial affection that people can give offers access to the unlimited and complete love that God has poured into the human heart.” That is the kind of quote that we need to read twice in order for it to truly sink in.
The angel came with a message that Christ came to bring glory to God and peace to all people. You can be angelic. Let us conclude wtih prayer from Kenneth Phifer’s book Uncommon Prayer:
“O God, I do like real things like money and houses, fast automobiles and diamond rings. Forgive me that when I think of Christmas, I often think of real things like that. I teach my children to think of bicycles and dolls, of toy trains and airplanes, of sugar and spice and everything nice. Forgive me for my foolishness. These things I spend so much time playing around with are not bad, I can even use them creatively. They make up much of my world and occupy a great deal of my time. But you know what my problem is? I get so involved in accumulating them that I forget who I am. I get so surrounded by them that I end up tanglefooted, stumbling along from thing to thing, falling down at times, bruising my shins upon them. Can you clear away some of the clutter of my life this year, O Lord? Can you help me pick my way through the crowded stores? Can you make me quiet long enough to hear angels? Can your Word about life break through the blare of tawdry commercials, the commercials that insist life can be bought if I will only go deeply into debt? Lord, do you understand me? Can you help me understand myself? Do I really substitute gifts for selfgiving too often? Would I do better to say “I love you” as I pass out the presents? Would I come closer to someone by spending as much time listening as I do shopping? These thoughts bother me at times. It may be that in my busyness I am losing touch with the things that are most real. It may be I am losing touch with you and with the Child whom you sent to grow up to be a Man, whose word was your Word, and whose love was your Love. I like real things, and I know if I will listen, I may hear of the most real things of all, things like hope and love and faith, that can change lives, even mine, and renew them in the image of Christ my Lord. Amen.”