The angels watched the earth as it spun around the sun. Day and night, day and night. Week after week after week. Season after season. Year after year after year. A hundred, a thousand, and thousands of years passed by underneath them in the land of eternal day.
One of the favorite angel gatherings for the angels is by the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God. New arrivals to heaven always made a point to visit the angels popular gathering place. It was among the top ten must see places.
However on this particular occasion, the angels were alone and in a somber mood.
Most of the time, the angels were praising God around the throne. They were joyous and happy. But, this discussion was filled with melancholy and sadness.
Gabriel had just returned from one of his countless missions to earth. Gabriel was often dispatched to bear the good news that God had decided to hear and act on the prayers of His people.
He is the one who appeared to the wife of Manoah. She was barren without child which was considered a curse from God in those days of the Judges. Gabriel appeared first to the woman with the good news that she would bare a son, and almost immediately thereafter he appeared to both Manoah and his wife.
Manoah begged the heavenly messenger to stay awhile and offered to prepare him a young goat and eat with them. The angel declined and told them to prepare a burnt offering to the Lord which they did.
The Lord did an amazing thing while the couple watched. As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame.
As was so often the human reaction from angelic appearances, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground overwhelmed with the manifestation of the glory from heaven.
The child was born as Gabriel had said, and the couple named the son, Samson, who went on to become a mighty warrior with the power of God against the Philistines.
Gabriel had recently returned to the heavenly gathering place from a similar mission that brought joy to a childless woman. But, he was saddened in what he had witnessed.
“There is a lot of cruelty down there. I’ve seen it over and over. People abuse other people. The weak are forgotten and exploited by the powerful . Many have lost hope - even the hope of living. They despair of even having been born.
“I’ve seen husbands abuse their wives. Wives have destroyed their homes through adulterous relationships.
“There are those who blame others for their troubles in an attempt to justify themselves. I heard a husband say to his wife, “You are the reason why I curse you and batter you!” The wife tried her hardest to please this volatile man. She was dejected and despised in spite of her efforts to please him. She bore the heavy burden of guilt and shame that he had heaped upon her weary shoulders.
“I’ve seen the same thing with parents who tell their children, “When you leave this house, we will have peace.” But peace never comes.”
Gabriel continued, “Everything down there is out of whack. It’s a sad, fallen place - that place called earth. Not many seem to be happy, grateful, or content.
“I can’t do anything about all of that because it is not my mission. I can only go carry out the task that the Almighty assigns to me, and then I must return.”
“Yea,” the other angels nodded in agreement. “It is a sad place down there. It’s not pleasant like it is up here.
“It’s a bad place down there. I’m always glad to get back home, Gabriel added. “Misery, poverty, disease, and death. Yep, it’s a tough world.”
“They sure messed up what God created for them,” Michael, the archangel, observed. “It all started with Adam, and they’ve gone downhill ever since.”
“And the ones who do make it - who are successful and have it made are full of pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency,” Gabriel noted. “You know how the Almighty feels about pride and arrogance.”
Jeremiel had kept quiet until now. The angel was deep in thought over the observations of Gabriel and the glum that had settled over them.
Jeremial’s missions consisted of pyrotechnic-type work to manifest the presence of the Lord God. He was sent to appear in a flame of fire in the bush that burned with fire but was not consumed. Jeremial remembered that mission as one of his favorite assignments. It sure captured Moses’ attention so God could speak to him and call him to deliver His people from Egypt.
Another favorite mission Jeremial often reminisced about was the time he led Israel out of Egypt all the way to the Red Sea. Then, he went to the rear of the Israelites and protected them from the approaching Egyptian army until God parted the sea, and they could walk across to freedom.
These were pleasant memories among many from successful tasks that Jeremiel had carried out.
But, he wasn’t thinking about the mighty power God gave him to carry out His will in special circumstances on earth because Jeremial too was in low spirits.
It was a great paradox. All of the redeemed in the heavenly city were filled with joy, but here the angels sat with their heads down. But of course, the redeemed knew they never had to return to their previous world filled with sorrows, tears, loss, sickness, and death.
However for the angels, they were like the space shuttle. They went up into space but always had to return to earth. The angels knew that their ‘number’ would come up again and again to leave heaven and go down on a mission from God.
“What are you thinking, Jeremial?” Raphael asked.
“Oh, I was thinking that our Father needs to do something to help those poor and hurting people down there.
“The people need saving and protection like I protected Israel at the Red Sea. They need joy,” Jeremial answered. “And not just joy for one couple but joy for all people.”
About that time, Michael, the archangel, heard his heavenly cell phone buzz. A text message summoned him to the throne.
The chief of all the angels soon returned to the gathering by the river of life. He sat among them with the brilliant radiance from his visit to the Almighty casting a bright glow around him. All of them were curious. They knew from past experience that an assignment had been issued to one of them.
Jeremial was hoping for another blazing bush or a giant fireworks appearance. He loved his job.
Uriel had not had an assignment in quite a while. His ministry was one of comfort. When Hagar was kicked out of the camp by Abraham’s jealous wife, Sarah, Uriel appeared to Hagar to comfort and direct her in her grief, loneliness, and rejection. He led her to the desert well called Beer-lahai-roi between Kadesh and Bered where she drew up life-sustaining water for herself and for Ishmael, the son she had bore for Abraham.
But Uriel would soon be busy. It wouldn’t be long before Michael gave the two greatest assignments that Uriel ever received. He would be one of several who comforted Jesus after forty days of fasting and fighting with the devil in the wilderness. He would also be dispatched to comfort and encourage the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus prayed with such intensity that his sweat became like blood immediately prior to the betrayal by Judas and His arrest by the Temple guards.
Michael looked over to Gabriel. “I’ve just received these assignments for you.
“First, you are to go to the Temple in Jerusalem and appear to Zacharias who is performing his priestly ministry in the Temple.”
Zacharias was married to Elizabeth who was well past her child-bearing years. They had prayed and prayed and hoped and hoped for a son, but God had not given them the desire of their hearts.
In the midst of Zacharias’ sacred duties, he looked up. His eyes had been failing him lately and the smoke from the incense irritated them. He rubbed his eyes trying to get a clear vision of what he saw on the right side of the altar of incense.
As the smoke dissipated, the old priest’s eyes focused. Gabriel smiled knowing the message of joy he had for Zacharias.
Instead, the old priest was troubled and was gripped with fear when he saw the angel.
Gabriel patiently explained the good news that he brought to Zacharias. "Do not be afraid, Zecharias; your prayer for a son has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John (the Baptist). 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 even from birth. 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 fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Zacharias was incredulous. Such things he had read about in the sacred Scriptures, but he never dreamed an angelic manifestation would ever happen to him. He thought he was hallucinating. A dream perhaps. Was this real or was it the effects of the incense?
He queried the angel not really expecting an answer because he thought the angel was an apparition that would surely disappear as it had appeared.
“How can I be sure of this?” he asked. “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
“These humans are strange people,” Gabriel thought. “Heaven appears right in front of them, and they can’t see it! All of his life, this old man has been praying, hoping, and wanting a son. You would have thought that he would be jumping up and down. Shouting hallelujahs. Running outside to tell the people gathered for worship and give praise and honor to the Lord and then run home to tell his wife the good news!
“So the elderly priest wants a sign, does he?
“Zacharias, to convince you that I am real, that I have been dispatched from the heavenlies, and that my message is from God Himself, you will no longer be able to speak. You will be silent and not able to speak until the day your son is born because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
Poor Zacharias. He tried to speak but nothing came out. He tried to mouth some words. He tried gesticulating with his hands, but all efforts to communicate with the angel were to no avail.
Gabriel was laughing within himself. “That’ll teach him that God sent me and answered his prayers!”
Awestruck, Zacharias went outside to the crowd who were wondering what had kept him so long in the Temple.
The people knew from the sparkle in his eyes that he had surely seen a vision and something good had happened to him. They waited for him to say something. And waited. And waited.
It was almost comical the way Zacharias was trying to communicate with them. He looked like a mime with his hands wildly flailing in the air.
He didn’t know if they ever understood him as he turned to go back inside the Temple and finish his service. His doubt had been transformed to faith.
On his way back home, his old legs had a skip to them as if he were light as a feather being blown by the wind.
Gabriel hung around concealed from sight to enjoy the joy that had come over Elizabeth and Zacharias. He had one more assignment to complete within a few months, and there was no need to return to headquarters.
He read his memo again. “Nazareth in Galilee. Find a young virgin girl named Mary who is pure, chaste, and holy.”
Gabriel found her that night finishing her prayers. He was rather taken aback by her appearance. Just a plain little peasant girl - not much to look at. Her home surroundings were Spartan - simple and austere. Her modest robe was well worn and ragged around the edges.
He looked again at the address. He was expecting a palace, a queen perhaps bestowed with great beauty, jewels, and regalia or at least a woman of social prominence.
“Well, I’m just the messenger,” he thought. “This sure isn’t the place or the woman I would have picked. But, who am I to doubt the wisdom and ways of my Creator?”
Gabriel made himself known. “Greetings, Mary. You are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
Mary put her arm over her eyes to allow them to adjust from the light of the flickering candle to the glorious heavenly visitor.
Sliding her arm down, she was greatly disturbed and vexed. She had no idea what was going on. She wondered what kind of greeting this was.
Little did she know her whole life had changed in a moment. And not only her life, but the lives of those both now and in the future. It would have been impossible for her to comprehend the import of the message that Gabriel was about to deliver to her.
The angel didn’t know what kind of reaction his announcement would receive from the poor young girl. Would she doubt and be a touch argumentative like Zacharias, or would she submit and accept the will of God for her life?
Gently and compassionately, the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name ‘Jesus’. He will be great and will 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."
Mary was confused and needed clarification. She had saved herself for marriage. No man had ever touched her. Innocently she asked the angel, "How will this be since I am a virgin?"
Gabriel eased her concerns about her virtue with his answer. "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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 old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
The wisdom of the Father in choosing Mary over a rich and powerful woman was verified to Gabriel in Mary’s response. She bowed her head in humility and folded her hands in an attitude of prayer and responded to Gabriel’s message from the very throne of heaven, from the Father Himself.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
Gabriel left and returned to his favorite spot by the River of Life with the others.
He had a sense of peace and joy. It was a sense of fulfillment. He perceived Mary was different, really different, than what he had commonly seen in people on his various assignments to earth.
Gabriel shared the success of his mission with is fellow heavenly beings. They rejoiced around the Throne singing, Holy, Holy, Holy are you Lord God Almighty. Righteousness, Goodness, and Mercy dwell in You.”
In the meantime, Mary hurried to Elizabeth, her cousin. The news of Mary’s visitation had already reached Elizabeth.
When Mary appeared at her door, Elizabeth shouted, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
“As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, my baby leaped for joy in my womb .
“Blessed are you because you believed that what the Lord has said to you will be accomplished!"
A short time later and without major complications, Elizabeth survived the birth of her son, John (the Baptist), which was quite unusual for a woman advanced in years.
Six months later, Mary went into labor. No royal attendants would assist her. No mid-wife was there to help. It was just Joseph, the helpless man who was trying to find water to boil over the fire he had started to displace the chill of the winter night That’s about all a man can do to help a woman in labor.
Mary’s delivery table was but a bed of straw covered by a smelly blanket that had been used on the back of the donkey that carried her from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus ordered every man back to the town of their heritage in order to be taxed.
The stable out back of the inn was the only place available, and the couple was grateful for that.
Joseph joyfully and tenderly picked the baby up after his safe arrival to this world of sin and sorrow. Like all men, he didn’t quite know what to do with the newborn baby boy, so he handed him off to Mary.
Mary held him close. “Jesus, Jesus,” she whispered softly to him. She took the warm water Joseph had drawn from the well and had heated. His first bath. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. She passed him off to Joseph, and he tickled his chin provoking a faint smile and coo. It was a wondrous night. Warm feelings bonded the two together. Even the animals in the stable seemed pleased.
Joseph handed the baby back to his mother. She cuddled the baby lovingly and for a long time.
Mary grabbed the manger and with Joseph’s help pulled herself up just high enough to lay the baby down while she held the baby close to her in her other hand. She looked down again at the Gift from Heaven and lay down exhausted for a few minutes knowing that the baby would be soon crying to suckle at her breast.
All heaven rejoiced. Michael who had summoned thousands of his fellow angels led the way to a field just outside Bethlehem to form the heavenly choir They lit up the night sky over the field outshining the stars to speak the joy of His birth to the lowly shepherds.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” they shouted in unison.
Once back home in heaven, Michael received additional orders. Chamuel was assigned to warn the Wise Men not to return to Herod whose jealous rage would not be satisfied until the baby Jesus was dead.
Chamuel would also appear to Joseph telling him to flee Bethlehem for the safety of Egypt. The Baby had to be protected at all costs and the mighty angels were up to their task. They made the Secret Service’s protection of the President look like rank amateurs.
No one could stop the mission that the Christ had been born to carry out until that mission was accomplished. The success of the mission was dependent on the angels protection, comfort, and care of the Son of God.
And on that awful day, when the cruelty and injustice of mankind beat, whipped, mocked, and tortured God, the Son, the angels stood at the ready. Armed with a greater force than mankind's weapons of war and mass destruction could ever conceive, the angels prepared to fight. Thousands upon thousands upon ten thousands waited for the order from the Commander-in-chief of the universe to sweep down and destroy the tormentors of Christ and rescue the Son. But, the call never came.
Jesus died on the cross. Mission accomplished! Jesus arose and lives to redeem all who believe giving hope and joy of eternal life around the Throne praising God with the angels and joining them around their favorite place beside the River of Life to hear their stories of Christmas from the heavenly point of view.
No more gloom hung over the angelic meetings. They witnessed the joy believers shared over the celebration of the birth of Christ in their churches and families. His birth had changed everything. Hallelujah! Joy to the world. The Lord is come!