Christmas Angels, Pt 1

No doubt about it: Christmas is a magical season. Short-lived though it may be, the Christmas Spirit transforms our lives and communities each year in a way that no other holiday even comes close to doing. Among those transformations is one you may have never thought of: The ability to talk and sing openly about Angels—without baseball, ridicule, or straight jackets being involved. And while we are all familiar with the Herald Angels We Have Heard Singing from On High, Luke mentions three encounters with Angels that are all critically tied into the birth of Christ. Here’s the first.

Zechariah’s Angel

The priests stood in a circle awaiting the casting of lots. The first lot, which took place at the break of day, was to decide who would clean the altar and prepare its fires. Later that morning, at the second gathering, lots were cast to decide who would offer the sacrifice and clean up the candlestick and the altar of incense. But the third lot was the most important, the most prized. Sure, the sacrifice was critical, because it was the only way to obtain a “meeting” with God. But the sacrifice was not the end game. The highest honor of a priest’s regular duties was in the third lot. It was then that it would be determined who should have his prayers “like incense” (Psa 141:2) lifted up before the Lord in the Holy Place.

Zechariah, a descendant of Abijah (and thus Aaron), was one of 16 different priestly families who rotated duties. With such a large number of priests vying for the third lot, only those who had never offered incense upon the altar were deemed eligible. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be chosen for this sacred duty of prayer.

After the assistants had reverently spread the coals on the golden altar and arranged the special incense (a mixture of Frankincense and spices), the chosen priest was left alone in the Holy Place, while the remainder of the priests awaited reverently outside in anxious intercession.

Zechariah and his wife had served the Temple faithfully for many years. Luke says that they were “both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Lk 1:6). Yet, despite their faithfulness, Elizabeth remained barren. For a priest, it was the ultimate humiliation; the Scarlett Letter that he could not shake. And now, on this one day, he found himself chosen by sacred lot to stand just inches from the curtain which separated mankind from the very throne of God’s representative presence on earth. It was surely a sign that God was not punishing him or his wife. Hope was being reborn.

His heart raced and his hands trembled as he symbolically lifted up the people of Israel in prayer through the pure white smoke of the sacred incense. But deep down, Zechariah remained burdened by his own situation. Surely, the thoughts of his barren Elizabeth fought their way through his subconscious mind as he prayed silently, reverently.

The temple was eerily quiet. Any noise outside was lost in the reverential solitude of the Holy Place. Zechariah was alone, with God, and with his own thoughts.

And then the unimaginable happened. Luke says that “an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him” (v. 11). Confused and frightened beyond words, Zechariah felt his knees begin to buckle and his head grow faint from the sudden rush of adrenaline. His eyes filled with terror as he stood frozen in holy awe.

Then the Angel spoke. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth” (vv. 13-14).

The joy he experienced at that moment was almost overwhelming. After all these years, it was finally true: God was not mad at him after all! God had heard his prayers. There would be a successor to the priestly line of Abijah.

Despite his doubts and concerns, Zechariah lived to see the birth of John. The words of Gabriel, though many months before the birth of Christ, rang true, and the world would never be the same again.

During this Christmas season, may your heart’s desires be like holy incense reaching straight into the throne room of heaven. And may the words of that special “Christmas Angel” ring as true for you as they did for Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, for God has heard your prayers.”

Click here to read part two.
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About Eric Wilbanks

Brand strategist. Wordsmith. Change architect. Training specialist. DiSC Certified. Family guy (hot wife and 4 cool kids). Love my Bible, guitars, baseball, and MMA.

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