I don’t think about angels much. I’ve never seen an angel. I don’t pray for angels to watch over me. I had a theology professor who said that if you have a strong understanding of the Holy Spirit, you don’t need a strong understanding of angels.
But angels are everywhere this time of year—in manger scenes, atop Christmas trees, on Christmas cards. There are porcelain angels, paper angels, and Thomas Kinkade angels. On top of that, the songs of the season include “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “The First Noel, the angels did say,” and the like.
Our angel frenzy each December makes sense from a biblical perspective. According to the gospels, an angel visited Mary to tell her Jesus would be born. An angel visited Joseph to tell him Jesus would be born. Angels also visited the shepherds to tell them about the Savior’s birth.
All of this raises a very real question: Do we believe in angels? I’m not talking about human “angels” that help people. I’m talking about supernatural beings that serve as messengers of God. We put them on our trees. We sing about them at church. We read about them in Scripture. But do we believe angels are real?
Some Christians claim to see angels regularly. Honestly, I find that difficult to believe. Others point to a bright spot of light on a photograph and claim it is an angel. It could just be a glare. I confess that too much talk of angels can draw my scrutiny. But I do believe angels are real.
In Luke 2, after the angel appears to the shepherds with the good news of Christ’s birth, a lot more angels show up and declare glory to God and “peace on earth.” If believing in angels is a tall order, what about the ideal of peace on earth?
When I hear that phrase, I almost immediately jump to all the reasons why it just doesn’t seem feasible. I mean, come on, angels, have you seen the real world lately? Maybe you mean glory to God and peace in heaven. Maybe you mean glory to God and peace in our hearts. But peace on earth?
Come to think of it, I wonder which is more difficult to believe in: angels, or peace on earth? Is it harder to accept that supernatural messengers intercede between God and humanity, or that peace on earth is an actual possibility? Are we really supposed to believe in both?
It might sound more sophisticated to talk in theological categories that preclude angels, and it might be more realistic to question peace on earth than to believe in it. But it might also represent a lack of imagination, even a deficit of faith. Perhaps our problem is not that we naively believe too much but that we fearfully believe too little.
The Christmas story seeks to awaken us to divine possibilities that stretch beyond the limitations we have imposed on the gospel. In the Christmas story, angels from heaven and peace on earth go together. A sense of the supernatural and the practicality of peace go hand in hand. Both emanate from the newborn Savior in Bethlehem’s manger.
When the shepherds got there, they told Mary and Joseph how the angels had appeared to them proclaiming the birth of the Savior and peace on earth. And do you know what Mary did with the words the shepherds spoke to her? She treasured them. Yes, she pondered them in heart. Yes, she contemplated them deeply. Yes, she might have even scrutinized them, because that’s important, too. But first, she treasured their words.
The gospel is to be treasured before it is analyzed. The gospel is to be believed before it is scrutinized. Angels. Peace on earth. A Savior is born. These words are precious. Let us melt when we hear them. And believe.
Pastor Noel Schoonmaker
First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN