Hi, friends. Every Christmas and Easter, I compose a couple “Story Behind” posts on hymns that commemorate the season. Last Christmas, I had no theme, but this past Easter, I started the tradition of focusing on a symbol; this year’s Easter theme was blood. This Christmas, the theme is angels. As I did on Easter, I am beginning the series with an introductory post on the topic. 🙂
[Featured Image: Left panel of the tryptich Christ With Singing and Music-Making Angels by Hans Memling, 1480’s.]
According to this Wikipedia article, in Christianity, “angels are often depicted as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God or Heaven and humanity. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God’s tasks.”
Angels in the Christmas Story
An angel tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will have a baby who is to be named John; John is a prophet who paves the way for Jesus.
The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will birth the son of God, and an angel tells Joseph to marry her when he decides to back out quietly because she is already pregnant.
Angels announce Jesus’s birth to “shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” They said “Fear not! I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” They proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest! And on Earth, peace and goodwill for men.”
Angels Throughout the Bible
In the Old Testament, an angel comforts Hagar after she flees from Abraham and Sarah. An angel of death kills every firstborn Egyptian son during the Passover. An angel brings Elijah food and drink after he flees from Jezebel. Read more on angels in the OT here.
In the New Testament, an angel informs the women who come to Jesus’s tomb after His resurrection that He is risen. An angel helps Peter escape from prison in Acts. Angels figure prominently in the Book of Revelation. Read more on angels in the NT here.
In many instances where an angel seeks a human in the Bible, the first thing said is “Do not be afraid.” Though we know few concrete details about angels’ appearance, we can at least assume they are intimidating. Speaking of what we do and don’t know…
Unknowns & Misconceptions About Angels
Angels are often depicted as beautiful and/or mighty human-like, androgynous creatures with wings, but we should not take culturally ingrained ideas for granted as facts (whether about angels, Satan, Hell, Heaven, etc.).
Scripture included in the Bible doesn’t describe what angels look like. The creatures in some apocalyptic passages (such as in Revelation 4, Isaiah 6, etc.) have wings, but “creatures” are not synonymous with “angels.” Scripture in the Bible doesn’t specify the hierarchy of angels, either, or whether they are purely “spiritual” beings or “material” beings.
Some angel lore derives from the non-canonical Book of Enoch. The first part of the book depicts the misdeeds of fallen angels and the havoc they wreak on Earth, and it goes on to describe angel hierarchies and more. The book was excluded from the Bible because it was written way later than most scripture, and it has long been deemed unreliable and even heretical. The fact that it lends some explanation to otherwise inexplicable Biblical references (such as to Nephilim) does make it tempting to explore. There are a couple references to the Book of Enoch in the canonical Book of Jude.
When people die, relatives often say “Heaven gained a new angel today.” Many people believe that we each have a personal guardian angel. Neither of these ideas is explicitly supported by scripture.
In my opinion, angels need not play a large role in a Christian’s faith. All we really need for Christian faith is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Though we don’t fully understand angels, they are used as God’s messengers/agents in the Bible, and they play a crucial role in the Christmas story by warning, directing, or guiding the right people at the right times.
Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you have reactions to this post or further information about angels; your comments benefit not just me but anyone who reads this post.