We pack so much into a month of Christmas celebrations. It is easy to get mired in all the busyness. When the festivities and feasting are done, what encouragements from this season of reflection will we take into a New Year? Is there anything at hand to help keep our minds focused in the midst of our culture’s holiday hurly-burly? What about Christmas hymns? Amazingly, they still ring out in the most unexpected places! Take hold of a phrase or single word and let it set your mind running in the Gospel truths you find there.
Consider the word angel: “Hark, the herald angels sing” – “the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing” – Angels from the realms of glory…you who sang creations story now proclaim Messiah’s birth”. The beginning of the New Testament is punctuated with angel praises, ‘Glory to God’ and words of assurance, ‘Fear not…’ as they bring the world ‘glad tidings of great joy’.
This angelic jubilation has the entire Old Testament as its back story. Within the highest ranks of the angelic host, there was a rebellion against God which impacted the first man and woman with deception and sin. Man, and all his descendants were swept into the dark. But God lit a lamp of Hope in the darkness [Gen. 3:15]. His Word of promise did not sputter out but He Himself kept the flame burning. Despite the disobedience and stubbornness of His people He unfolded to them, over the years, the amazing scope of His covenant. In the last book, Malachi recorded God’s warning and promise:
“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.” [4:2,5-6]
After these words heaven fell silent for four centuries. To men, all looked hopeless.
The season of silence drew to a close, and at the appointed time, came heaven’s heralds of the ‘Sunrise from on high’. The first messenger appeared to Zacharias in the temple nearly a year before Jesus birth. Quoting those last words of Malachi, the angel told the old priest his own son, by the Spirit’s enabling, would do this ‘turning’ work. The angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she had found favor with God. Joseph, with much to doubt, was reassured of God’s purposes by an angel in a dream. An angel of the Lord announced Jesus birth to the shepherds but at this awesome event, heaven could not be contained! Luke describes heaven spilling over before a few lowly shepherds as a ‘multitude of the heavenly host’ sang out with praise to God – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased”. The birth of Christ began shattering the silence and dispelling the darkness, for “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” [Jn.1:4]
The Gospel accounts of Jesus dealing with the forces of darkness seem to overshadow the brief portrayals of angels ministering to Him during His life. After Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness angels came to Him. An angel strengthened Him in Gethsemane [Lk. 22:43]. Angels remind us that Christ’s battle was cosmic in scope. Yes, He came to reconcile us by His death to God. He also came to this world, the home court of death itself, to get the victory over it as Isaiah prophesied: “He will swallow up death for all time…”, [25:8]. We should not be surprised, then, to find the one place where Jesus found not angelic encouragement or support – the Cross. When the Father turned His back on His Son every angel withdrew in silence and darkness covered the land as the sun’s light itself failed.
The silence of the Cross was broken at the Resurrection [Matt. 28:2-6]. In Colossians 2, Paul says that in Christ’s cross our sins are forgiven and our debts cancelled. In verse 15 he gives a glimpse behind the scene, “When He [Christ] had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them” Matthew Henry explained:
“[Jesus] has obtained a glorious victory for us over the powers of darkness. He treated with God as the Judge, and redeemed us out of the hands of his justice by a price, but out of the hands of Satan the executioner, he redeemed us by power and with a high hand. The devil and all the powers of hell were conquered and disarmed by the dying Redeemer. The first promise pointed at this [Gen. 3:15]. The Redeemer conquered by dying. He broke the devil’s power, conquered and disabled him, and made a show of principalities and powers before angels and men, triumphing over them in his cross and by his death, for he trod the wine-press alone.”
Be encouraged today. Christ has conquered sin and death for His people that we might know true and lasting Joy. He has traveled our way and knows there are rough roads and great discouragements. He holds out to us His gracious promise. As certainly as He came the first time, He will come again, but this time in the glory of His Father with the holy angels [Mk. 8:38]. May the angel’s songs of joy stir up our hearts with longing for His return.
In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true;
Crown Him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
Let His will enfold you in its light and power.
Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With His Father’s glory, with His angel train;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of glory now.
Caroline Noel – 1817-1877