11th January 2019
Perhaps you don't believe in angels. Perhaps the shepherds didn't believe in them either, until they met one. Once you've seen an angel, you can't "un-see" him. And once you've experienced the love and power of God, you can't "un-experience" Him. I don't think I've ever seen an angel, but I have had many experiences of God. There was I time when I didn't believe in God, but I must believe now, because I've met him.
Some people want to dismiss the idea of God and of angels. But the fact that we can't prove they exist doesn't prove they don't exist. Some people rather hope they don't exist, because finding out that they do exist might be rather unsettling. But just like the shepherds, if you experience God or angels, you'll have to believe in them.
I believe in God because I've experienced God. No matter how many people tell me He doesn't exist, I know He does. It would be a bit like telling me the desk I'm sitting at doesn't exist. Because I've seen this desk, I know it exists. Because I'm experiencing it right now, I'm certain it exists. It doesn't matter how sophisticated, or educated, or clever an atheist might be, he can never convince me of the non-existence of a person that I've met.
There's a reason why the first angel said, "Do not be afraid". Angels are awesome. They're not the way many rather soppy paintings suggest. Angels are powerful warriors, as well as messengers. Remember, for example, that when Adam and Eve left the garden, God posted angels to guard the entrance with a flashing sword.
Despite his fearsome appearance, the first angel assured them that he'd come with good news of great joy. He told them, "Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord." Just as some people doubt the existence of angels, some doubt or even deny that Jesus is the Messiah. But the shepherds didn't doubt it. When you've had an experience of the divine like theirs, it changes your perception, your ideas about religion and God, and it increases your understanding that there are more things in heaven and earth than you'd realised.
The angel said that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – God's unique Anointed One – and that Jesus is Lord – God Himself in human flesh. Do you believe that? If not, maybe you should ask God for a divine experience for yourself.
Some people who believe in God and in Jesus still need to be encouraged and strengthened in their faith. Out of God's mercy, the angel promised the shepherds a sign – a confirmation. If they'd go to Bethlehem, they'd find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And after the angels left them, they went, and they found Jesus for themselves.
Jesus is the Saviour of the world. It's worth looking for Him. And He Himself has promised that if you seek Him, you will find Him.
To see one angel must have been a huge surprise, and an enormous privilege, and scary. To see the glory of the Lord – a heavenly brightness that manifested God's holiness and power, and His presence - must have been amazing, humbling and unsettling. But then the shepherds also saw a great company of the heavenly host, a huge group of God's angel army.
I suppose God was being considerate, giving the shepherds the chance to get used to seeing one angel before they saw a whole brigade of them.
Job 38v6 tells us that, at the beginning of our history, the angels witnessed the creation of the earth, and shouted for joy. And the angels who visited the shepherds on the hillside on that first Christmas night, said, or sang, or called out, "Glory to God in the highest". I think this was both a spontaneous rejoicing at the greatness of God, and a proclamation that mankind would see God's glory through Jesus. What a sound it must have been – thousands of angels proclaiming God's glory!
Isaiah saw and heard angels more than 700 years before:
The angels spoke, or sang, or called, about the holiness and glory of God, and the sound was tremendous. And now the shepherds were hearing the same thing.
On that first Christmas night, the angels came not to a priest, or a prophet in the temple, but to working men at their place of work. Jesus is for everybody who will receive Him.
The angels came to earth that night to praise God for His amazing grace. I think they were excited about what God was doing. God was coming to earth in human form. The angels must have been amazed to learn that God would do such a thing. They must have glimpsed how great is the love of God for humanity.
It was also through the prophet Isaiah that God first described Jesus as "Emmanuel", which means "God with us". God came to earth to be with us, and He will come and be with us now, if we'll let Him. And the angels came to tell ordinary people like you and me that Jesus was being born, that there is good news in this tired, confused old world, that there is a Saviour, and that anybody who will seek the Saviour will find Him.