Sermon for December 24th, 2017
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
The Joy of Angels
Alright. If we're going to do this, you need to forget just about everything you think you know about angels. There is no Halo. There are no wings. And even though I could stand to shed a few pounds--don't judge--I'm certainly not a chubby little flying baby.
I'm not ever going to sit on your right shoulder while some little red guy with a pitchfork sits on your left one. And no, I will not fly behind your car protecting you while you drive like a maniac. In fact, I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a "guardian angel" and there never has been. That's actually His job, and he's pretty good at it.
As an Angel of the Lord, I have one job, one function, one purpose alone in the universe. Like all angels, I am a messenger. That's it. Nothing more. In Ancient Israel, they called us Malakim. It means messenger. In Ancient Greek, they called us Angeloi. It means messenger. Angel means messenger, and that's what I do. Got it? Good. Because I don't have time to repeat myself, especially around this time of year. You think the post office, FedEx and UPS are busy around Christmas time? Try being an Angel of the Lord. I have 3.7 million churches to deliver my message to tonight. You're number 17.
I know, I know. You're probably going to ask why all the other angels can't help me. I said that all angels are messengers, but each one carries a different message from the Lord. That's why we all have different names. You've probably heard of the angel Gabriel. His name means "God is my strength" and that's his message, too. He comforts the weak and the powerless, and puts the strong ones in their proper place. And you've heard of the angel Michael? His name means "Who is like God?" and that's his message, too.
My name is Hani'el. I'll tell you what it means in a little while. But to get there, first I'll tell you how I came about my name...because my name wasn't always Hani'el. God changed my name, and he changed my message.
I used to be called Ra'amiel. It means "Thunder of God." You can probably imagine the nature of my message. Let's just say people generally weren't exactly thrilled to hear from me. I have galloped with the horses of invading armies. I have brought down unshakable walls, and swept away entire cities on the crest of the raging flood waters. You know, it's funny--I never got a lot of reply mail back in those days. Go figure...
But everything changed one day when God spoke to me. There are so many amazing stories in this world that begin with exactly those words: Everything changed one day when God spoke to me. Mine goes something like this:
Yes, my Lord? Here I am!
RA'AMIEL. I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOU TO DELIVER.
That's great, Lord! It's been a long time since my last delivery. I was starting to think you had forgotten me!
I DO NOT FORGET ANY OF MY CREATIONS, RA'AMIEL.
No, I guess you wouldn't, huh? So who's the lucky recipient this time? We gonna wipe out some more Philistines? I'm ready. Lemme at 'em!
IT'S NOT THE PHILISTINES.
No? Oooh, I bet it's those new guys, the Romans, isn't it? I love making them shake in all that metal armor they wear...when they get really scared they sound kind of like tambourines.
IT'S NOT THE ROMANS.
No? Uh oh. Are we gonna bring down the thunder on your own people, on Israel again? I know how you get about all those false idols they worship. Let me just go get my trumpet...
I'M SENDING YOU TO SOME SHEPHERDS, OUTSIDE THE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM.
Ohhhh. Shepherds. Yeah, I know the type. Low-life, bottom feeding scumbags and thugs. Nasty excuses for human beings, all of them. Most of them smell even worse than their flocks, and they're about as dim-witted as sheep, too! Let's wipe 'em out, God. Let's zap 'em into oblivion! Let's--
WE'RE NOT ZAPPING ANYONE, RA'AMIEL.
We're...not? I...I don't understand, Lord. I mean, it's me, Ra'amiel. Zap! Bam! Thunder! It's what we do, you and me. That's...that's my message.
I'M GIVING YOU A NEW MESSAGE. I'M CHANGING YOUR NAME.
Yeah? Hey, you know, that's a great idea--I've been thinking of a few good ones, too. What do you think of Eshi'el -- the "Fire of God?"
Ok, what about Nachashimi'el -- Snakes of God? I mean, it's a little weird, but people are really afraid of snakes. We could do a lot with that one.
I WAS THINKING OF SOMETHING A LITTLE NICER.
Nicer? Really? You mean, like something warm and fuzzy?
Hmmmm...maybe like...God's bunny rabbit...with...sharp pointy teeth? Yeah! God's attack rabbits! Now that's good stuff...
I'M SENDING THEM MORE THAN A MESSAGE THIS TIME.
Are you going to send them Man-nah again? Or stone tablets? Just as long as it's not another rainbow. Have you seen what they're using that for these days? You know, personally, my favorite was when you sent them plagues and locusts.
I'M SENDING THEM MY SON.
Your son? You know, that's probably not a bad idea. He could straighten them out, knock a few heads together. How many legions of angels will he command on this expedition? I'd think about 70,000 would teach them a good lesson they'd never forget.
ANGELS ARE ONLY MESSENGERS, RA'AMIEL.
Oh, yeah. There is that. Well, he's your son, after all. I'm sure he can take care of business all by himself. So what form will he take? A dragon? A lion? A Warrior King? Wait, wait...don't tell me. I know your favorite: A burning bush.
ACTUALLY, I WAS THINKING MAYBE...A BABY.
A Baby? A Baby?!? Have you lost your holy-ever-loving-sovereign-mind?!? I've been down there, I've seen them! They are wicked, evil, brutal, violent people. They'll kill him!
YES, THEY PROBABLY WILL.
Then how can you be okay with that? What's the point? What good could possibly come of this? I just...I don't get it, Lord. I don't understand.
YOU DON'T ALWAYS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND.
I know, I know. I just have to do my job. I just have to deliver your message. To a bunch of shepherds.
WHY DON'T YOU STOP IN BETHLEHEM FIRST? SEE MY SON.
Stop in Bethlehem. See your baby son. Is that just a suggestion, Lord, or is it a command?
Ha! Right. Ok, Lord, I'll do it. Lord?
I know it's getting late, and I should start my trip soon. But you still haven't told me what my message is. You haven't told me my new name.
FROM NOW ON, I WILL CALL YOU...HANI'EL.
You already know the rest of the story. I traveled to Bethlehem that night, and saw the Son of God wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. A helpless baby, and yet it was obvious from one look on the faces of his earthly parents that their lives would never be the same again. I delivered my message to the shepherds (I still scared them just a little—I couldn't help myself) and they too came to see this helpless baby. I watched as they went away again, changed men. They still smelled bad...but there was new purpose in their steps, new expression deep within their eyes. I watched wise men and livestock alike bow down before this child who came to save the world; this child who came from Heaven to live among men; this child who came to die at their hands.
I still don't understand it all--I'd be lying if I said I did. But when I saw this baby--not a dragon, not a lion, not a warrior king or a burning bush--but a little baby boy--When I saw him look into his mother's eyes, and when she looked back at him, and smiled...at that moment, I knew my name. I knew my message.
Hani'el. It means...Joy. It means "God is my Joy." And indeed he is.
God changed more than just my name that night. He changed more than just my message. He changed my entire life and my reason for living. I hope that God will change your life when you encounter his son this Christmas. And may your Joy always be found in Him.