The second Sunday of Advent may be celebrated by lighting the Angel Candle, also known at the Candle of Peace. The Bible speaks of angels nearly 300 times, yet we don’t have an in-depth discussion of the origin or nature of angels anyplace in Scripture. We have two solid ways of understanding these beings, however. First, the words translated “angel” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament mean “messenger.” The Hebrew word is found in the name of the last prophet of the OT, Malachi, a name that could mean “my messenger” or even “my angel.” In the NT, the Greek word is angelos, which is merely transliterated into our English Bibles and means “messenger.” Second, the book of Hebrews describes angels as “ministering spirits,” or “spiritual servants.” Putting these together allows us to conclude that angels are God’s specially created servants whom he uses to send special messages to men and women. Special, special indeed!
Angels play key roles in the Christmas story. In Matthew, Joseph receives several angel visitations that instruct him to marry Mary, to name her child “Jesus,” to flee Israel, and to return after the death of old King Herod. In Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to both the father of John the Baptist and to Mary with startling news of upcoming miraculous births.
A beloved part of the Christmas story is the appearance of angels to a group of shepherds outside Bethlehem. These bedraggled and somewhat disreputable men were “sleeping rough,” staying with their valuable flocks through the night. Why they were chosen to hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah we can only guess, but chosen they are, and the announcement is not scaled down to fit their low social standing. An individual angel messenger gives them the grand news,
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.
To top this off, the shepherds experience one of the most wonderful things ever seen by human beings. For a few seconds, heaven is opened and they witness a very large group of angels. Luke describes this as the “full armies of heaven,” perhaps every angel in existence. They are not arrayed in battle gear, though. They function as a speaking choir, saying or singing a grand song of praise and good news:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
This is the famous canticle often known by its Latin title, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” Imagine this scene for a moment: every angel in heaven singing a praise to God and at the same time bringing a message to men and women. The message? God’s peace is now come to earth, peace in the form of a baby, bundled up and laying in the manger of a nearby stable. How were these shepherds to put these two together, a spectacular announcement with a rude and humble birth?
This is both the mystery and the promise of Christmas. The glory of God in heaven had come to earth as peace with the birth of Jesus. On this, the second Sunday of Advent, we recognize this peace, for Paul taught us that Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). We light the second candle of Advent as a symbol of Peace. He is truly the prophesied Prince of Peace. May we cherish the promise of the Christ Child, Peace on Earth between God and us, his sons and daughters.
Nebraska Christian College