The Christmas story is one of the most well-known biblical accounts, with millions of people around the world celebrating the story of Jesus’ arrival to save humanity from sin. One of the most interesting elements is the role that angels in the Bible play in the nativity story.
These so-called “Christmas angels” carried the message of Jesus’ arrival. And while we aren’t always told the names of the angels in the Bible, their important role in the nativity story is essential to point out, explain and understand.
So, let’s dive into the role “Christmas angels” play in scripture and why it matters:
Christmas Angels: The Angel Gabriel
One of the first places to look when it comes to Christmas angels is the story of Zechariah — something that isn’t always included in the nativity account. In many senses, it’s understandable why this story isn’t included, but it’s a good place to look when we consider the names of angels in the Bible and their roles in the nativity story.
In Luke 1, we learn that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are righteous, but are childless and old. Then, one day, as Zechariah is in the temple of the Lord burning incense, the Angel Gabriel appears with a message: Elizabeth would soon get pregnant and give birth to John the Baptist.
How do we know the angel's name when he came to speak to Zechariah? The Angel Gabriel said this when Zechariah wondered how his wife would become pregnant at such an elderly age: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”
And, of course, it came to fruition as the Angel Gabriel said it would. Considering John’s fulfillment of prophecy and his paving the way for Jesus, this is one of the angels at Christmas stories worth telling.
It is also believed that Elizabeth is Mary's cousin, meaning that John the Baptist is also Jesus' cousin. As we learn in the next part of the nativity story told in scripture (we'll get there in the next section), Elizabeth's was the first place Mary went to after she learned the news of her own pregnancy, as told by the angel Gabriel.
Angels in the Bible: Mary and the Angel
The next place we see angels in the Bible surrounding the nativity story is when an angel visits Mary. This is the Christmas story of the angel, Gabriel, in Luke.
Again, we see the Angel Gabriel emerging. Luke 1:26-28 (NIV) reads:
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’”
But as Mary and the angel spoke, the Bible tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the news he delivered. The Angel Gabriel told her, though, not to be afraid and that God was with her. In the end, Mary and the angel’s discussion ended with her proclaiming that she is “God’s servant.”
Mary's answer to the angel's proclamation is her saying "yes" to God's will, and telling the Angel that she will do what God is asking of her. For this reason, this story is also a model for how open and trusting we should be when God asks us to do something. While He may not always send us an angel to tell us what He wants from us, we are still called to have as much faith and trust as Mary did in her answer to the angel.
When it comes to angels in the Bible, this is one of the most powerful and transformative dialogues — one that can’t be overlooked as we explore the role of angels in the nativity in the greatest story ever told.
In the next passage of Luke chapter 1, we see that Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, and this encounter already shows the prophecy the angel has spoken to both Mary and Zecharius is being fulfilled:
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” - Luke 1: 39-45 (NIV)
As we heard earlier in Luke, Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph when the angel came to visit her and tell her the good news. Let's see how the angels played a part in helping Joseph realize his role in the nativity story.
Angels in the Bible: Joseph and the Angel
In addition to the account of Mary and the angel, we’re also told that another Christmas angel experience unfolded with Joseph, who eventually comes to accept Jesus as his son. In Matthew 1, we learn that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.
At the time, Joseph, who was pledged to wed Mary, learned about her pregnancy, and had decided to quietly divorce her. There have been many speculations as to why Joseph might have decided to divorce her, and do so quietly. As a "man faithful to the law," Joseph knew that adultery was punishable by death through stoning. Joseph, knowing the truth that Mary didn't commit adultery, didn't want her to suffer those consequences she didn't deserve. He was trying to save Mary's reputation in the community.
But the Christmas angel’s message to Joseph changed everything. This is one of the times, too, when the names of angels in the Bible wasn’t recorded.
Here’s what the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:20-21 (NIV):
“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”
In the end, Joseph decided to listen to the angel and trust God's word spoken to him through the angel. He decided to have faith that Mary indeed did not commit adultery and that both he and Mary, and the unborn child, will be protected by God from major consequences.
Christmas Angels: Announcing the News to the Shepherds
Did you know the story of the shepards coming to do Jesus homage is indeed from the nativity story and that a Christmas angel is involved in this part of it as well?
Luke 2 recounts Jesus’ birth and we once again see the presence of angels in the Bible. While the Angel Gabriel isn’t mentioned by name, we see “an angel of the Lord” appear to shepherds who are keeping watch over their flocks. And that angel has a message in Luke 2:10-12 (NIV):
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
But here’s where things get really interesting: an entire host of “Christmas angels” emerges alongside the first angel of the nativity. This Christmas host of angels begin praising God over Christ’s birth. Names of the angels in the Bible story aren’t given, but the power and purpose of their presence is clear.
After the angels praised God, they left the shepherds and went back to heaven, and the shepherds then went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. - Luke 2:15-20 (NIV)
The shepards wanted to also pay homage to Jesus, after seeing and hearing from the angels of praising the baby Jesus.
Christmas Angels: Warning Signs
The Christmas angels’ involvement in the nativity story doesn’t end there, as we learn in Matthew 2:13 that an angel later appeared to Joseph after Jesus’ birth and warned him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt and to stay there, because Herod wanted to kill Christ.
Joseph listened and the family stayed in Egypt until after Herod’s death. Again, one of the angels in the Bible is said to have come to Joseph in a dream and told him to return to Israel, saying, “Those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
It’s important to note that Joseph’s decision to listen to angels in the Bible shows how prophecies were able to come to fruition. From the birth of Christ to details surrounding his childhood, these prophetic fulfillments are stunning.
As we look at angels in the Bible and, in particular, the Christmas angels, there is so much to consider. The Angel Gabriel’s powerful role is noteworthy, as is Mary and the angel’s interactions and Joseph’s decision to abide by the claims made by angels in the Bible.
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