How often in stories and accounts do we hear of these heavenly messengers - about angels? Almost every culture has legends and accounts, as well as encounters with these beings. In past entries, I have stressed that angels are not to be worshiped or prayed to as many New Age-beliefs teach. However, in this instance, we are referring to the vital role that angels played in the Birth of Christ - let us take a look. The Bible only mentions four angels - Michael, head of the army of Heaven - the angels, Raphael - who stands in the presence of God, Lucifer - who is Satan, the devil - and Gabriel - a messenger angel who had shown the prophet Daniel many things centuries before the birth of Jesus. Gabriel plays a dominant role in the account of the birth of Christ. We first see an angel appear in Matthew 1:20-23. (For more on the three angels, see entry: "Which Angels Are Mentioned In The Bible?")
"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means, 'God with us')" Joseph woke up and did what the angel had commanded him, "But he had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25) About nine months before Joseph was visited, in Jerusalem, a man named Zechariah was chosen to go into the Holy Temple and burn incense. Now, all of the people praying were outside, and Zechariah had entered the temple.
"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is even born. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.' Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.' The angel said to him, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you of this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time" (Luke 1:11-20). Gabriel was correct, Zechariah had to write on a tablet until the birth of John. (Luke 1:57-80)
Gabriel appears again in Luke 1:26-38. "In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David." Now remember, this was before Joseph was told in a dream. "The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words, and wondered what kind of greeting this might be."
"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.' 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" (Luke 1:30-34)
Gabriel's reply? "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her hold age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.' 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me according to your word.' Then the angel left her." (Luke 1:35-38)
After this, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her relative. Three months later, John had been born and Zechariah had re-gained his speech, his first words confirming the child's name, "His name is John," fulfilling the words of Gabriel ninth months prior. (Luke 1:63-64) When Mary had returned home, an after Joseph had been visited in a dream, (Matthew 1:20-23) and Caesar Augustus called for a census (Luke 2:1), requiring everyone to go to their own town to register, Joseph took Mary and traveled to Bethlehem.
Jesus was born while they were in Bethlehem - the text does not reveal whether it was the night of their arrival or a few brief weeks later, but is revealed is this: after he was born, the same nights, "there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their sheep. And angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified." (Luke 2:8-9)
"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' 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.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'" (Luke 2:10-15)
About two years after the birth of Christ, after the magi had visited, Herod had become angry. "When [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'" (Matthew 2:13) After this, King Herod had all of the children under the age of two killed - and Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus were already on their way to Egypt. Not long after, Herod had died. "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.'" (Matthew 2:19-20) Joseph took Mary and Jesus and went back to Israel, and after hearing who had replaced Herod (Archelaus), he went to Galilee and lived in Nazareth.
As we have determined, angels play a significant role in the account of the birth of the Messiah. Gabriel, an archangel, heralded the birth of John to Zechariah and the birth of Christ to Mary - and was presumably the angel who heralded his birth to Joseph and the Shepherds - though we do not know for sure. Also, a heavenly host, a multitude of angels, was praising God with the angel who heralded His birth to the shepherds. If the angels were removed out of the equation, it would be: dead air+prophecy=Mary being told she would conceive. It would not go very far, without the heavenly messenger Mary could have had major issues not only with Joseph but with many others. She may not have survived long had an angel not visited Joseph - and many people in Bethlehem may not have come to the Messiah had the shepherds, who were told by the angel, not been told.
Regardless of your stance on these beings, their role is just as important as the magi or the shepherds, each had a part to play. In the same way, we all have a role to play - once we follow Christ, and allow our lives to play out the way they were meant, we begin to see the bigger picture, as if some grand tapestry with each thread being intertwined.