Most of us boomers had to re-learn the New Testament birth narratives we had committed to memory as children. Yes, we heard those Bible stories in church during December. Some of us celebrated Advent and the candles brought Bethlehem, Nazareth, no room in the inn, mangers. shepherds, wise men, and the heavenly hosts into our Christmas vocabulary. We also sang the hymns and merry-making seasonal music. It was in the music that we learned about the other characters of this special holiday---Round John Virgin and Olive the Other Reindeer. Singing helped us count down the days of Christmas, especially the line about the jenapear tree. In my preteens I also wrestled with the idea of the shepherds becoming sore afraid when the angels appeared to them. I remember asking our pastor grandfather, Rev. O.F. Owens, the actual meaning of that phrase---"...the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid" (Luke 2:9, KJV). He told me and other cousins that the shepherds were so frightened by the angels their bones shook to the point of soreness. He said it with a glint in his eyes.
Dr. Luke's orderly account mentioned the appearance of angels two times in the announcements prior to Christ's birth. The first appearance was to Zechariah, a priest of Israel and later the father of John the Baptist. Luke wrote---
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of
incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the
angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and
your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will
have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the
Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy
Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to
the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn
the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.
Luke 1: 11-17, ESV
Like Abraham and Sarah of the Old Testament, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were doubtful about the angels message. Elizabeth was barren. Both were elderly and beyond child-bearing age. They wanted to know how this could be.
The angel Gabriel also appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus. You know the story and the verses. Read what Dr. Luke wrote anyway---
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named
Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of
David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O
favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried
to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be
afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your
womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be
called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his
father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom
there will be no end.
Luke 1: 26-33, ESV
Mary was initially troubled as well since she had never been with a man. The angel told her about Elizabeth, her relative, and reminded her that nothing was impossible with God (Luke 1: 37). As a servant of the Lord she yielded and said, "...let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Mary's doubt was momentary.
God spoke to Zechariah and Mary through his own messengers, the angels. And, they initially doubted what was said to them because the angel spoke things that seemed impossible in human systems. Dr. Luke would have understood those doubts. Zechariah the trained, educated, and righteous priest, doubted. Mary, the simple young woman, perhaps teen, was troubled and wondered about what the angel told her.
To the best of my knowledge I've never encountered an angel. But, the anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2, ESV). We may encounter angels and not know it. But, the truth is that God does speak to us and still we humans find ways to doubt him. In short order, God speaks to us through (1) the work of the Holy Spirit (2) Scripture, (3 prayer, (4) his church, and (5) in life circumstances. A mystery of the Kingdom is that God can send his angels to us in any of these five dimensions. They are all five the voice of God addressing us humans with spiritual truth and direction.
And, how often we doubt. Christmas isn't a season of doubt. It is a season of affirmation, and wonder, God miraculously fulfilling his promise. We are commanded to have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 22) because faith demands that we live beyond what seems probable and even possible. We must also remember that God didn't show us everything (see Deuteronomy 29:29). Faith is, however, believing what God says and living life according to his plan, often in total wonderment.
Christmas announces victory over doubt. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were born just as God said. Thank you Dr. Luke for showing us the powerful truth of God's unchanging faithfulness in such dynamic ways. Thank you for showing us how to live in wonderment rather than doubt.