Monday, December 10, 2012

The Angel Gabriel - Christmas Messenger

"I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God"  Whoa!!! That is clout. "I stand in the presence of God!" If this particular angel stands in the presence of God, and he has a message to deliver, we listen. And for an angel to have a name? That doesn't happen often. In the entire Bible, we find only 2 angels that have names - one is Gabriel, the other is Michael the Archangel (Jude 1:9). We find Gabriel appearing in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news." His announcement initiates the Christmas story. I imagine that Gabriel, standing in the presence of God, received instructions that the time was right to begin the process of sending God's Son to earth (Galatians 4:4-5, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.") So God sent not just an ordinary angel, if there is such a thing, but the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, a Jewish priest, to announce that his wife Elizabeth would bear his son, who would become John the Baptist, forerunner of Christ. 

Six months later, God sends the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 2:26-37)

This interaction between Gabriel and Mary is the last we hear of Gabriel. His mission is accomplished. But this isn't the last we hear of angels being used as messengers in the Christmas story. The next instance we find an angel involved in the Christmas story is with Joseph. As you can imagine, when Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and he knows that he isn't the father, there is some major turmoil going on! God decides to intervene to calm things down. An angel is sent to Joseph with a message before it's too late and he divorces Mary. So an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-25)

The next time God sends angels as messengers comes on the night Jesus is born in Bethlehem. 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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-12)

As soon as that angel is done speaking with the shepherds, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:13-15)

The next time a messenger angel is sent by God, as far as the Christmas story is concerned, involves the Wise Men. Although it's not specifically mentioned that it's an angel who is involved, when the Wise Men were warned in a dream to leave Bethlehem after they had visited Jesus and worshiped Him, it's logical to assume this warning was delivered by an angel. ( "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." - Matthew 2:11-12)

As soon as the Wise Men are gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt." (Matthew 2:13-14)

The next time an angel appears comes after quite some time - after Herod died. An angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:19-20)

The last time a messenger angel is used in the Christmas story, or at least we can assume it was an angel, was in Joseph's dream. When Joseph left Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and headed back to the land of Israel and heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. (Matthew 2:22-23)

So as you can see, angels were used in the Christmas story nine times! To Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, twice with the Shepherds, to the Wise Men, to Joseph three more times.

Angels were certainly active in the Christmas story. Angels are used frequently throughout the entire Bible. If you search the word 'angel' in the NIV, you will find it used in one form or another 294 times. It makes you wonder... are angels active today? Do we forget that angels exist? Does God still use angels? Just because angels are invisible, do we disregard their reality? Consider this verse, a rhetorical question about angels....."Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14)

A rhetorical question is a question that requires no answer, but is done for effect. The answer is obvious. For example, a rhetorical question would be, "Is the Pope Catholic?" So in the case of Hebrews 1:14, what this verse is saying is this:  Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. Christians, that's us! Maybe you don't realize it, but angels minister to us, sent by God. It may not be always obvious or evident, but as you look back on your life, maybe you can see it. Do you know what it makes me realize? God is an interactive God who can intervene in our lives, real-time. God is all knowing and all powerful, and He loves those who are His. And when necessary, he may not send a visible angel, but He surely is able to send 'ministering spirits' to serve us somehow, someway. That's our God! Hallelujah for His providence.

1 comment:

  1. What an encouragement and a great reminder: there are still angels in our midst. Sometimes I wonder if when I get to heaven I will be made aware of situations where I was in the presence of angels and didn't realize it. "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:2).