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Don't forget the angels this Christmas


We live in a world more convinced of fairies, elves on shelves and goblins, yet angels are everywhere, including the heart of the Christmas story. By Martin Sweet 


Every Christmas is significant for anyone involved with children in schools. It is a good opportunity to share the wonderful story of Christ’s birth. But what bothers me is that we seem to want to come up with ever more convoluted ways of getting the story across. The fictitious donkey has a starring role. The inn-keeper’s kindness is a model for our generosity. Birds are nesting in the stable, and so on.
I'm not a fan of this ‘over-lay’: I believe the best activity we can undertake is to tell the story, just as it is, because it is wonderful to focus on the person who was born and not the stable.

With this in mind, I wonder whether there's a particular aspect of the nativity we shy away from: the role of the angels.
In these days of texts and mobile phones, it might be tempting to ignore the angels. Even in church life we don’t often refer to the role of angels. We live in a world more convinced of fairies, elves on shelves and goblins, yet the word ‘angel’ crops up everywhere. Abba sang I believe in angels. Robbie Williams had a huge hit with Angels. Jack Johnson, U2, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, The Doors, Aerosmith, Eurythmics, The Faces (Rod Stewart), Morrissey, Simply Red and Elvis have all featured angels in their lyrics.
Angels figure in the Bible story right from Genesis through to St. Paul, where we can read how an angel reassured him in a huge storm: ‘It’s alright, God’s got it under control. Trust him’. Angels love to party, and not just at the birth of Christ. God speaks of their reaction to creation in Job 38:6-7. 'On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?' According to Jesus, they also love to party when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

We can forget that Jesus needed angels. In Matthew 4, after the temptation, we are told that angels came and ministered to him. And in Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. How? I think the angel brought a message.

The second issue therefore is with the word ‘angel’. It means messenger. You could say a ‘heavenly postman’. The most important thing about a messenger is the message, as explained in the simple joke: what do you call Postman Pat after he retires … Pat’. In the same way an angel without a message is …  well, what?  They are indeed messengers, not just message bringers, down from God, but also up to God too. When Jesus called Nathaniel, he told him he would see angels (John 1:51): “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” And this was to a man ‘in whom there is nothing false’.
Although the ‘angels’ at Christmas are only in Luke’s gospel, if we accept Jesus’ comments to Nathaniel (John 1:51) we can see that they are tasked with taking messages to mankind and back again. Better than that, the Christmas angels brought their message to some shepherds. Not the grown up and conceited elite, not the special, nor wealthy, nor even well educated, but possibly the least respected or expected members of their society. And in true, good educational practice, the message from the angels was easily understood. It wasn’t difficult to understand, and it was easy to follow. We know this because they did it.

All this resonates with ‘our’ task of making, or keeping, the Christian message easily understood by this generation of children. So let’s not muddle it, for Jesus refers to angels in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Just to put it in context, in verse 2, Jesus calls out to a little boy and invites him to stand among the men. And he tells the men to change and become like this child – a child in the midst. He goes on to explain that this is not some pleasant illustration, or ‘Disney-esque’ emotive moment. He slams home the truth: unless you do this, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
But isn’t that asking the men to be vulnerable? He takes them to a fresh understanding of his commitment and grace, stating that the children’s angels always see the face of his father in heaven. It was Gabriel’s rebuke that gives us insight into the role of an angel. (Luke 1:19), “I stand in the presence of God.”
We might focus on making priorities of our church development programs, but God is constantly hearing the needs of this generation of children. Not from us or our prayers, but from angels. The statement ‘children come first’ is not some earthy platitude, it is a heavenly reality!

Let's not forget, nor be afraid to talk about, the role of angels this Christmas.

Dan Kiefer

Martin Sweet writes on behalf of the Baptist Education Group (BEG). The vision of the Baptist Education Group is to encourage every Baptist church to strategically engage in supporting its local school.

Martin is director of Spinnaker Trust, an organisation with over 25 years’ experience, based in SE London, regularly supporting over 100 primary schools in London and the Southeast with RE, assemblies and much more.


Baptist Times, 18/12/2017
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