In the months leading up to the birth of Jesus, angels paid relatively quiet visits to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. On the night of Jesus’ birth, though, they could not contain themselves. The shepherds in the fields got an earful:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14.)
The angels must have been watching this birth with unbounded interest, waiting to see what the Lord was doing. The gospel of the New Covenant fascinates the angels and they long to know as much about it as they can. (1 Peter 1:12.)
After all, whose birth were they watching? While the people on earth might have known some of the importance of the arrival of the Messiah, the long-promised hope of Israel, the angels knew more. They knew that this baby is God himself, the Lord of all creation (including angels) now becoming part of the very creation he has made.
First-born of Creation, First-born of Death
When the angels saw their God being born a baby in Bethlehem, did they know his plan included death on the cross? And when they saw that death approaching, did they desire to step in and rescue him from such evil just as they burst forth to announce the goodness of his birth?
Birth in a humble manger, death under humiliating circumstances – each is glorious in God’s plan:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:15-17.)
Jesus was not the first baby ever born, of course, and he was not the first person ever to die. He is named first-born not because he is part of creation and subject to birth and death, but because he is God himself who is head of all creation, everything that has ever been born and everything that has ever tasted death.
He did this in order to bring creation back to the Creator, to bring all he created back to himself.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20.)
What is Christmas about, what is this good news the angels longed to know more about? It is that God did everything necessary, from a humble birth to a humiliating death, to reconcile us to himself.
And that’s what Christmas is all about.
[This is the second post in a two-part series on the life and death meaning of Christmas, and how it is all part of God’s blessings for creation. Here’s part one.]