We have all seen it. You probably saw it in the last few weeks.
A child is coaxed onto Santa’s lap, and then the child begins screaming and frantically trying to escape.
Truth is, some children find a strange loud man in a bright red suit and long white beard frightening.
The angels in Luke’s Gospel are a bit like that.
When an angel confronts Zechariah in the temple, he is startled and gripped with fear. The angel reassures him not to be afraid.
When the angel Gabriel approaches Mary, she is greatly troubled and wonders what this means for her. Again, the angel tries to calm her natural fears.
When an angel appears to the shepherds in the night, they are terrified; the angel again tells them not to be afraid.
Why are these people afraid of angels? They are fearful because these are real Bible angels, not the smiling Hallmark card angels of popular culture.
In our culture, angels have become background music for our modern dance of self-indulgence.
They guide lost children home and protect us from robbers. They stay busy rescuing us from car accidents and fixing flat tires. They even find lost keys; no job is too trivial.
One cynic asked what angels did before the advent of the car. In general, they give us what we want – a bit like Santa Claus without the beard and loud suit.
In the Bible, angels are as fearsome as they are comforting.
They guard the Garden of Eden with flaming swords and wrestle with Jacob all night. In the book of Revelation, they battle dragons. They are as often warriors as deliverers.
Bible angels bring messages of correction as well messages of comfort. They sometimes have hard and challenging things to say because they speak of what God wants and not of what we want. These are Bible angels.
So, Zechariah and Mary and the shepherds get a bit nervous when an angel comes close.
The angels announce that the presence of God is about to get a lot more immediate, because a Savior, who is both Christ and Lord, has been born. This inevitably will force a choice in people’s lives.
If you think the angels’ presence is intrusive, just wait until this child grows up and begins demanding a level of commitment from people, which they had not anticipated giving, even the religious among them.
For now, we are all safe. Jesus is just an apparently harmless cooing baby in a manger.
The angel Gabriel makes clear to Mary, though, that it will not long remain this way.
She proclaimed, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever,” (Luke 1:51-55).
These angels are a bit intrusive, but this is just the beginning of the disturbance.
If you are proud and powerful, you are going to have to make some tough choices. If you hunger for the things of God, you are in for some pleasant surprises.
Jim Kelsey is executive minister of the American Baptist Churches-New York State.