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Why I Believe In Angels

Luke 2:8-14

William Muehl, a professor at Yale Divinity School, tells about going to a children’s nativity play. It had all the usual characteristics of such plays—a sagging curtain, dim blue floodlights, a box of straw, a baby doll Jesus. There were twenty little girls who played the angels, and the boys were dressed up in bathrobes and carried big sticks like shepherds. Suddenly, this particular play became most unusual. You see, in order for the angels and shepherds to know where they were to stand on stage, the teacher had placed a circle on the floor of the stage where the angels were to stand and a cross on the floor of the stage where the shepherds were to stand. In rehearsal, it was easy for the youngsters to find their mark because they were wearing their school clothes—skirts and jeans. The night of the production the angels came on stage with their flowing white gowns, and they covered up all of the marks. When the shepherds processed onto the stage they couldn’t find their marks and so with their crooks they began to push the angels aside. Finally at the height of the conflict, one little six-year-old shepherd walked out to the footlights, put his hands on his hips, looked down into the front row at the teacher who was already in a state of collapse, and he said for all to hear, “These darn angels are messing up the show. They’ve hidden all the crosses.” Cute story, great message—more about that later …

Let the record show: I believe in angels.

Now I know that there are those who do not believe in angels. That’s all right, I suppose. After all there is nothing that says a person has to believe in angels in order to be a Christian. However, I do think it is worth remembering that the Bible mentions angels more than 300 times. Furthermore, it is quite clear that Jesus Himself believed in angels. Let me tell you, if Jesus believed in angels that’s good enough for me. Now my guess is that you may be thinking to yourself that I have lost touch with reality with all of this talk about angels. Well, I have to tell you that I have spent a significant amount of time studying the subject. I’ve read what Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin and Luther have to say about angels. I’ve read the modern treatments from Jacques Maretain to Billy Graham to David Jeremiah. Karl Barth, the great twentieth century theologian, devoted 160 pages to the subject of angels. I would remind you that no less a modern intellect than Mortimer J. Adler wrote a book called The Angels and Us, written, he says, “To defend the religious belief in angels against those who dismiss such belief as unreasonable, preposterous, or absurd.” So who is out of touch with reality? If I am, then I am not alone. I am in some very good company. So I believe in angels, and I think the day will come when you believe in them too. In fact, it may even be today. For today I want us to zero in on the angels who were there that first Christmas.

Ponder, please, the majesty of the Christmas angels.

It is not easy for us to think about angels because they are so different from us. They are spiritual beings. They are not cute, chubby little cherubs strumming their harps, nor are they great resplendent creatures with vast wings and shiny halos. That may be how artists portray them but there is no description which comes anywhere close to that to be found on the pages of the Bible. All we are told in Scripture is that angels exist and that they are spiritual beings.

I know. It is difficult for us to understand about angels. We can’t see them. We can’t analyze them. We can’t comprehend them. But that should not keep us from believing in them. Let me express it this way. If I were to place a television set before you here and extend the antenna and turn it on, you would see and hear what is being telecast. That means that this room right now is filled with television signals waiting to be picked up by a television set. We can’t hear those signals or see them or taste them or touch them or smell them or even understand them, but still we believe that those signals are all around us all of the time. So it is with angels.

Alan Walker tells of ministering in the Outback of Australia. He was to serve communion in a small church out in the middle of nowhere. Only two people showed up. He was rather depressed that he had traveled a thousand miles only to find two Christians in his congregation. He thought to himself, “Well, I’ll get through this sacrament as quickly as I can and move on to better opportunities for ministry.” As he was going through the motions of reading the Anglican Liturgy for the Lord’s Supper, he suddenly caught his breath. For he read the line, which says: “With angels and archangels and all the heavenly hosts, we adore Thee.” He stopped and then he prayed out loud, “O God, forgive me, for I forgot the company I am in.”

I haven’t lost touch with reality, dear friends. I say to you very simply, very seriously, very sincerely that I believe in angels. I believe that they are the messengers of God. They are always at work weaving into the course of our daily experience the things we need to deal with all that life sets before us. I’ve never seen an angel and I don’t expect to, not in this life. But this Bible tells me—and I believe it because it has never, ever failed me—this Bible tells me that you and I are compassed about by majestic angels. Even at this moment, they hover unseen in our presence, working to bring God’s blessing, God’s power, God’s peace, and even God’s Son into our lives, just as they did that first Christmas.

Ponder, also, the message of the Christmas angels.

That message is best captured, I think in the words of the dearly loved Christmas carol:

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”

Focus, please, on that last phrase, “God and sinners reconciled.” Occasionally I have someone say to me that they see God in nature. That’s fine, but I must tell you that I am not really very impressed with that. I mean anybody who sees the flaming beauty of an ocean sunset or the mountainsides painted with the spectacular colors of the autumn or the pure silence of a valley sleeping beneath the blanket of snow—anybody who sees that, and then says that they see God in those things needs to remember that it would be gullibility rather than good sense not to see God in those things. So I’m not really very impressed when someone says they see God in nature. However, when someone says that they have experienced and seen God in the sanctity of their own heart, when they talk about God as He is evidenced, not just in the stars but in their own souls, well that’s the kind of person I know has been to Bethlehem. They’ve heard the message of the angels about, “God and sinners reconciled.”

There is a moving moment in the play Les Miserables when Fantine, a prostitute trying to make peace with God in her life, sings a haunting melody:

There was a time when men were kind,
Their voices soft, their words inviting.
There was a time when love was blind;
The world was a song, the song exciting.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die.
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

That’s not just a dream. Kindness and love will never die. God will be forgiving. That’s the joyous message the Christmas angels came to bring. For, you see, when a person has been to Bethlehem in his or her heart, when a person has seen the sacrifice and the love of God, when a person has experienced the grace and the peace that come from God in Jesus Christ, then that person experiences a joy like no other joy ever known.

There was a time during the most horrible persecution of the Jews by the Nazis in Poland when an old Jewish cemetery keeper came into the cemetery one morning and found that, during the night, a woman trying to avoid capture had crept into an open grave and there had given birth to a son. Then she had died. The keeper found the child still alive, and he began to cry, “This must be the messiah for only the messiah would choose to be born in a grave.” Well, it wasn’t the messiah. The child actually died a few hours later. But the old cemetery keeper spoke a truth deeper than he knew. Only the Messiah of God would choose to be born into this life in a lowly stable to die an agonizing death on a hideous blood-stained cross and then to be born into eternal life in a garden grave. Do you remember the story of the little boy in the nativity play who cried out, “The angels are hiding all the crosses?” Well, the Christmas angels didn’t hide the cross. You see, the message of the angels is not only the message of Christmas; it’s also the message of Calvary and the message of Easter. The joy of Christmas and the suffering of Calvary and the ultimate joy of Easter combine to remind us that, in Jesus Christ, you and I can be reconciled to God. In Jesus Christ, you and I are heaven bound.

Well. . .

The Bible is right up front when it says that most people who heard the message of the angels didn’t pay much attention to it. The Gospel of John notes that the world knew Christ not; that He came to His own home and His own people but they received Him not. The Gospel of Matthew speaks about a star but notes that only a few people followed it. The Gospel of Luke tells us about the heavenly host praising God, but there is no evidence that a massive number of people responded to it. We understand that, don’t we? I mean, we know perfectly well that even the hardest heart can get a little soft around the edges at Christmas time and yet for so many people, it won’t last. It will disappear. It will go down the drain like dirty dishwater after Christmas dinner. They’ll pack up that spirit of love, peace, hope, and joy and put it away with the tree lights in the attic. However, for those people who experience the reality of the Christmas angels in their hearts, for those people who welcome Jesus Christ into their hearts and into their lives at Christmas—for those people, Christmas will last forever. Dear friends, I plead with you today to take Jesus Christ into your heart and into your life this Christmas, for then you will discover that this Christmas will indeed last forever, and you will discover that you can say what I say:

“I believe in angels.”

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