The fourth and traditionally final candle to be lit on the Advent wreath is the Angels’ candle.
While angels appear throughout scripture, Luke’s gospel uniquely describes the praise of the angels over the birth of Jesus. Last week we look at the proclamation to the shepherds, humanity’s lowly representatives. This week we look at the content of their proclamation, centering mainly on Luke 2:14.
In Luke 2:13 we see a stratias or “host” of angels appearing before the shepherds, singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Glory, from the Greek word doxa probably refers most directly to the praise attributed to God. Yet the word is used elsewhere in scripture to refer more specifically to describe God’s majesty and significance.
Christ was the most significant man who ever lived, if for no other reason than the fact that He was also God. John 12:41 tells us that Christ embodied the “same glory that Isaiah saw.” In Isaiah 6, Isaiah catches a brief glimpse of similar angelic praise, where God can only be described by “the train of His robe,” and around Him fly numerous seraphim – apparently a special class of angel who sing qadosh, qadosh, qadosh – “Holy, holy, holy” – the highest superlative to describe God’s holiness, His “set-apart-ness.” And the same grandeur of this great scene is manifest in the child of Bethelehem, a child that John’s gospel would say has made the Father known (cf. John 1:18).
The problem with many of the younger, emerging-type Christians is that they neglect Christ’s deity in their emphasis on His humanity. You can actually go to websites that sell shirts that read “Jesus was homeless,” because today Jesus is often being redefined as a poor, marginalized Galilean peasant. So-called “red letter Christians,” who emphasize Christ’s ethical teachings (i.e., the words that many Bible print in red) are notoriously guilty of this. My advice? Keep reading the red letters. Read John’s writings, whose gospel emphasizes Christ’s deity, and whose Book of Revelation portrays Jesus as a coming warrior.
But the words of the angels are not isolated to words of heavenly praise. The miracle of the incarnation is that God’s grace touches earth, and from the virgin’s womb comes God’s great promise to mankind. “On earth,” the angels proclaim, “peace to men on whom [God’s] favor rests.” “Peace” corresponds to the term shalom of the Hebrew scriptures (cf. Psalm 29:11) and is a strong feature of Luke’s theology (cf. Luke 1:79; 10:5-6; 19:38-42; Acts 9:31; 10:46). Peace would come through this child, a peace and security extended to God’s elect.
God’s kingdom is one that is both heavenly as well as earthly, which is why Jesus would pray as an adult that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This season reminds us of a time when heaven met earth in a prominent way, and invites us to participate in God’s kingdom so that all may hear and understand the message of the angels.