In our street shine Santas and snowmen, penguins and reindeer - and candy canes! The secular Christmas story in lights! Our friends in Binfield wanted to contribute to their local Christmas decorations with a Christian theme, so they displayed an illuminated white angel.
Angels may not be present in many front garden Christmas light-fests, but they are fashionable and popular. They are regularly chosen by the Royal Mail to adorn Christmas stamps. If you’re religious or not, every time you use a 2nd class Christmas stamp in the UK this year, you’ll be sending an angel picture to someone. In songs and films, angels are more popular than ever. They come to bring good news, work magic, and, as Robbie Williams sang 25 years ago, offer ‘protection and affection whether I’m right or wrong’. Many people will have one on the top of their Christmas tree – an angel – or a fairy – what’s the difference?
Angels, it seems, are the acceptable face of the biblical Christmas story – singing or playing their beautiful trumpets, offering a seasonal fix of music and fantasy or spirituality but, crucially, not making any demands on anyone. And who needs any more demands this Christmas? With Omicron rampant and Christmas plans being threatened or cancelled right, left and centre, we all need some ‘protection and affection whether we’re right or wrong’. We all need what the Biblical angels are said to have announced to the outcast shepherds on the fields outside Bethlehem, ‘Good news of great joy to all people’. ‘Peace on earth’ may seem like an unattainable fantasy – but we certainly need a bit more of it.
But what about demands? Did Christmas angels bringing good news also present demands from the God who sent them?
In the biblical Christmas stories, every single time an angel appeared with amazing news, people were frightened stiff. As angels came to tell people they were chosen to be or do or know something special, it’s as if everyone asked, ‘What me?- I’m ordinary.’ And the angels said, ‘Yes. you! – actually you’re extraordinary’.
Each of the people in the Christmas story was challenged to believe that they were extraordinary. Mary asked, ‘But how can this happen?’ The shepherds went on a search to explore this gift that they had been given. But choosing to engage with the news that God was among them as a baby slowly changed their lives – in their different roles, it somehow made them extraordinary. Like the baby, they had to grow up and mature. They had to learn a few things. They had to learn that extraordinary didn’t mean plain sailing or no more problems (think of the whole of Mary’s life). But it did mean that whatever else was true, however bad things were, however bad they felt, Someone was ‘with’ you. And that Someone believed in you.
If being believed in is going to make demands on us, most of us don’t want to be extraordinary – we’d rather just be run-of-the-mill, thank-you very much. But over that first Christmas, the message that the angels brought to the greatest and the most ordinary of people – was an invitation to believe that not only the baby in the stable but that each of them and every other human being is extraordinary. All of us will be kinder to ourselves and everyone else if we listen to the angels’ message!