Angels, Advent, and Anticipation: A Christmas Story
A passage peculiar to the Gospel of Luke involves the light of the glory of God filling the darkened air as angels evangelize a field of shepherds.
"Fear not," exhorted the first angel to appear, "for behold, I bring to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!" (Luke 2:10-14).
The Christmas story, informing us of our need for a Divine Savior and the all too humble beginnings of that Savior, stresses primarily the “glory to God in the highest” (v. 14). The Gospel is concerned with the goodness of God far before it is concerned with sinful humanity, even if Christ is now a partaker of that sinful humanity.
God, extending the bounds of celestial celebration to engulf the Earth, permitted angels to confront Judean shepherds. The Gospel excites every spirit of light to celebration and evangelization. It is that "into which angels long to look" (1 Peter 1:12).
What is it about the Gospel that compels so much excitement?
In part, it has to do with God becoming man. As far as we know, this has never happened in all of eternity. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). This is known as the first advent, or rather, the Christmas advent - characterized by the incarnation of God into the likeness of men.
This advent alone would have meant nothing outside of another advent. What would it matter if God just became sinful flesh? It would have been a disgrace to the nature of God. The Christmas advent is incomplete without another. An advent of fulfillment, which we'll call the third advent, is characterized by the incarnation of man into the likeness of God - "We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
Saint Irenaeus said, "In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is,” meaning that God being likened to men is an incomplete Gospel without man being likened to God. Yet both are incomplete experientially for us without the second advent. "The 'Second Advent' by which Christ is present in our souls now, depends on our present recognition of His pascha or transitus, the passage of Christ through our world, through our own lives" (Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, p. 76).
This is the "living hope" the Apostle speaks of in 1 Peter 1:3 - a mystical interlocking of the past advent with the future advent in a present experience of Christ known as the second advent. Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him" (v. 23). Those who choose to believe in the name of Jesus, and receive Him in love and adoration, experience the reality of the second advent. This is the purpose of the Christmas advent: that we might live and love with Him right now, becoming like Him as we approach the third advent.
Angels long to look into the intricacies of the Gospel because they've yet to meet God's grace and mercy in view of the darkness of sin. For the first time in the history of creation, aspects of God’s infinite love are being revealed. Angels, who experience the unbounded pleasure of the presence of God, experience deep longings (1 Peter 1:12), fulfilled not purely in the first advent of God becoming like man, nor in the third, of man becoming like God, but in something else entirely - in the “great mercy” of God (1 Pet. 1:3). They are fascinated purely by the love of God.
The Gospel compels so much excitement, yes, because of the Christmas advent and its fulfillment in the third advent, but primarily because of the love of God, which is experienced right now within the reality of the second advent. This is the fullness of the Christmas story.
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church