Angels bring the shepherds news of great joy of the Saviour's birth in Bethlehem.

Angels bring the shepherds news of great joy of the Saviour's birth in Bethlehem.

December 21, 2015

Almost every Christmas tree has one - an angel, garbed in a flowing gown, balanced on the top of the evergreen tree.

To many, the angel is traditionally the last ornament placed on the highest branch. There she sits, resplendent, gazing down in all her glory.

The angel deserves that place of honour for the voices of angels resounded throughout the world at the coming of the Christ child.

The first voice was heard when the archangel Gabriel told Mary she would bear Jesus. A virgin, Mary was shocked and protested how this could be. Gabriel assured her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that her son would be called Jesus, the Son of God.

The messenger from God also told the startled Mary that her aged relative Elizabeth would also bear a child. An angel had already foretold this miraculous event to Elizabeth's husband Zechariah and told him to name the child John (Luke 1.19-20).

Pondering this disquieting information, Mary was assured by Gabriel, "Nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1.37). Mary, engaged to Joseph, knew society would never condone a woman's being unfaithful; she would be stoned to death when her pregnancy became known.

Joseph also knew this and planned to secretly divorce his beloved Mary.

But again, God sent an angel in a dream to smooth away Joseph's fears and protected Mary from being killed. As he slept, the angel told him, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus" (Matthew 1.20-21).

Meanwhile, Emperor Augustus decreed that a census should be taken and all should be registered. So Joseph, a descendant of David, journeyed with his pregnant fiancée to the humble town of Bethlehem.

When they arrived, Mary went into labour. The census meant the inn was crowded, so the weary couple took shelter in a stable. Jesus was born and Mary "wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger" (Luke 2.7).

Who were the first to hear about this momentous birth? Again, God chose humble souls to be the first to hear the Good News.

Shepherds, amongst the lowest in the Israeli social order, were guarding their sheep that night in the surrounding hills. Suddenly, an angel appeared. Radiant light enveloped the startled men.

Of course, the shepherds were terrified. The angel sought to quell their fear, telling them, "I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2.10-11).

To underline the gravity of his message, a host of angels gathered around the original messenger, praising God, singing "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favours" (Luke 2.14).

It was the shepherds, alerted by the angels, who made their way to the stable, witnessed the truth of the angel's message, and shared the angels' words with Mary and Joseph and those gathered around the manger.


Danger surrounded the newborn though when King Herod was told by the wise men that the king of the Jews had been born. Frightened, Herod ordered all children aged two and under to be slaughtered.

Again, an angel saved newborn Jesus' life. The Lord sent an angel in a dream to Joseph, who told him, "Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you for Herod is about to search for the child and destroy him" (Matthew 2.13).

Joseph did as God told him through the angel's message in the dream, and Jesus' life was spared.

Without angels, the Christmas story would not have happened in the same way.


Angels, often trivialized in today's society, are seen here as what God intends them to be - messengers from God, guides for people to know God's will.

Knowing their importance then, the voices of the saints tell us it would be wise to embrace angels in our lives.

As Thomas Aquinas said, "We are like children who stand in need of masters to enlighten us and direct us: God had provided for this, by appointing his angels to be our teachers and guides."

St. Francis de Sales underlined this wisdom, saying, "Make yourself familiar with the angels and behold them frequently in spirit: for without being seen, they are present with you."