Ever see a frightening angel in a nativity scene? Me neither. They're always cute little kids or beautiful women (or really effeminate looking men). The same thing is true of the angels on most Christmas trees. That's just not right.
Biblically speaking, angels were frightful creatures, not because they were ugly but because of the strangeness of an encounter with a heavenly being. The most common response, throughout the Bible, to such an encounter was fear. Nearly every episode resulted in the human falling prostrate before his visitor. Thus, we hear the frequent refrain, "Fear not." In the book of Revelation, the picture becomes more frightening as the angels of God's avenging wrath await release. Clearly, angels are not to be taken lightly.
Such was the case when the angels visited a group of shepherds tending their flocks on the night of Jesus Christ's birth. Those shepherds trembled with fear. The angel said to them, "Fear not." Then, those messengers of God delivered the most amazing message. The Christ, the Messiah, had been born that very day. (Luke 2:8-14)
The response of the angels, the very messengers of the good news, is instructive this Christmas season. Upon delivering their message, they worshiped.
They worshiped Him because of who God is. "Glory to God," they exclaimed, "in the highest." He is not some little god to be pulled from the closet once a year. He is God in the highest. The Creator God. He is the one and true God and worthy of our worship not matter what else he may ever do for us. (v. 14a)
They worshiped Him because of what He had done. God has something great and marvelous. Rather than leaving us in our sins, He has sent his Son and with Him "peace on earth among men." The peace they proclaimed is not national peace as so many think today. The peace they announced is God's plan of peace between rebellious sinners and their Righteous King. (v. 14b)
They worshiped Him because of why He has done it. God did not have to send His Son. He would have been well within His rights to wipe the earthly slate clean and start over again with a righteous people. But, He didn't. God reached out in mercy to save. He did so because it pleased Him to do so. He sent His Son to save "those with whom He is pleased!" (v. 14c)
The right response to the Christmas story isn't "oh how cute" but "oh, how gracious." The first noel ought to drive us to our knees and lift our voices to God in gratitude. That's why Christ came.
As A. W. Tozer once remarked, "Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the Cross, and rose from the grave to make worshipers out of rebels." Or, to quote the familiar Christmas carol: Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth, and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled."
Peter Beck serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5)