A message from God is a big thing. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He spoke to Daniel in dreams. Isaiah had visions. Thousands of other people He used prophets to speak to. And finally God spoke to all of the people in scripture. There is one more way that God spoke to people that is central to the Christmas story. God spoke to people through angels.
The word angel means messenger, so it is only fitting that we see an angel delivering some of the most important words in human history. Reactions to angels vary widely depending on the person and the circumstance. This morning we’re going to see three different reactions as angels present good news to three different people.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have faithfully served the Lord their whole lives and Zechariah is a priest in the temple. However they are old and do not have any children. While Zechariah is carrying out his priestly duties alone an angel greets him.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19The angel answered, “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. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
As Zechariah is greeted by the angel Gabriel he is gripped with fear. We can’t be sure what causes the fear. Some times in the Old Testament people were visited by angels in human form. Even in the New Testament the writer of Hebrews says in 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Whatever form that Gabriel took on his day it is apparent that he is an angel.
Note Zechariah’s reaction to news in Luke 1:26-38
26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34″How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”
38″I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Gabriel also tells Mary to not be afraid but it is apparent from the beginning that this is not the same type of fear that grips Zechariah. Instead, it is the same type of fear that grips a person when the pastor asks if they mind if he stops over. “What does he want? What’s going on? What did I do?”
Mary’s reaction differs from Zechariah’s as well. His response is how can I be sure, hers is to ask how it will happen.
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14″Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When 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.”
Once again the angel has to instruct the shepherds not to be afraid.
Unlike the other two messages – by the way, you’re going to have a baby – there is a choice and an action to be made in this message. The shepherds choose to follow and are rewarded by being the first to witness the coming of their Savior.