Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 8, 2019
‘Tis the season when angels take center stage
December once again. The season devoted to football, Santa Claus, the Grinch, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, candle-lighting, gifts and Christmas trees. But hold on. There is more. December is also the season when angels take center stage.
You may wonder if angels actually exist. If so, no need to be embarrassed. Nobody can prove Gabriel is out there somewhere. I will admit I have never seen an angel. The only angels I have seen were children dressed like angels in Christmas pageants.
But when the Bible unfolds the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, angels play a prominent role. The good Doctor Luke employs angels to convince his readers that the Jesus who had been crucified was the long-awaited Messiah. Since angels are “messengers of God,” it gives the birth of Jesus dramatic significance for them to announce it. Luke wants us to understand that this was no ordinary child; this was the Son of God whose birth was the fulfilment of Jewish prophecies.
The birth of Jesus for Luke was God at work. God “sent” the angels to make their various announcements. It was God, not Joseph, who was responsible for Mary’s pregnancy. The Holy Spirit “came upon” Mary, causing her to conceive the child whose name Jesus was given by angels.
Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus did not “become” the Messiah by living an exemplary life. He was the Messiah in his mother’s womb. He had always existed; the difference now is that he has come to earth in human form as a baby. He was much more than a great teacher or prophet. He was the Messiah, birthed at the right time in history, in the place designated by almighty God centuries earlier.
Joseph and Mary did not just “happen” to be in Bethlehem. They were there by the will of God so that the plan of God could be fulfilled. Luke knew, from his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures, that the “Son of the Most High” would be born in Bethlehem, “the city of David,” and that is precisely where Jesus was born.
Hope streams into this story like light shining in the darkness. God’s Son was not born to royalty within a castle. Joseph and Mary were humble, God-fearing peasants. The shepherds, who first heard the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth, were ordinary people. And, to give common folks even more hope in God, the angel hammered home the truth that this “good news” was for “all the people”!
To make sure we understand that the baby born to Mary was God’s Son, Luke has an angel explain to the shepherds that the baby was “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Each of these words is significant. For centuries the persecuted Jews had been looking for God to send a Deliverer who would save them from their oppressors. The word for this Deliverer in Hebrew is “Messiah.” In the Greek language of Luke’s gospel, the word “Messiah” is translated “Christ.” So these two words are interchangeable.
“Christ,” therefore, is not the last name of Jesus. Both words, Christ and Messiah, are titles for the Son of God, the Deliverer of God’s people. So it is more “correct” to say “Jesus the Christ” than the more common “Jesus Christ.”
The word “Lord” refers to Yahweh or God the Creator. What Luke wants us to see is that in the coming of the baby Jesus, God has come. Jesus, then, is Christ the Lord, God come to save his people. While the name “Jesus” was a common name for Jewish men, Jesus the Christ gave it a marvelous new meaning.
As I review this day’s writing, I am laughing out loud. If an angel were to speak to me right now, I think he (or she) would say, “Brother Walter, I fear you are boring your readers with this lesson in semantics. Why not just tell them that we meant what we said when we announced the birth of Jesus to those shepherds. Tell them that this is the best good news the world has ever received. Tell them that Immanuel is among them. Tell them that Jesus the Christ can deliver them from their sins. And tell them that if they will fall on their knees during this holy season, they may actually hear us singing and praising God for Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth!”
So with a good laugh and a loud Hallelujah, I remind you to listen out for the angels this month. This is their time to dazzle our darkness with the light of God’s good news! + + +