The beginning of the New Testament is dotted with appearances by angels. In the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters of Luke, I count 6 times.
Once to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, who received the shocking news that he and Elizabeth would have a baby boy and that child would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Once to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to tell her that she as a young Jewish virgin girl would have a baby without a human father.
Three times to Joseph. First to tell him that he should go ahead with his marriage to Mary rather than to "put her away quietly." Then, after the Magi visited them in Bethlehem and presented their gifts, an angel warned him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod and later to let him know that Herod had died and it was safe to return to Israel.
And once to the shepherds in the field surrounding Bethlehem, one angel came first and was then joined by a "great company of the heavenly host." I have often imagined the sound of that celestial choir.
In the case of Zechariah, the Bible described him as being "startled and gripped with fear" at the sight of the angel, and the shepherds were said to be "terrified" when they were visited out in the countryside. I heard a sermon once that used these references and others to make the case that angels were nothing like what we have pictured in our minds, no white flowing robes, golden halos, beautiful faces. Instead, they might very well have been grotesque in appearance, which explains why their first words were often "Fear not!" I certainly don't know for sure, but one day I will. For now, I prefer to think of angels as magnificent messengers sent from God, in whatever form that might be.
Responses to the appearance of the angels varied. Zachariah questioned the message. The shepherds cowered in fear and then joined forces to go find out what had happened. Mary and Joseph were both completely obedient. What would my response have been? As the reigning Queen of Questions in my family, I fear my response might resemble Zechariah's, while my heart wishes I would accept the message as Mary did. What about you?
On our recent trip to Germany, Austria and Slovakia for the Christmas markets, I spotted angels almost everywhere I looked. Here are a few photos I want to share:
Luke 2:13-14 - "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest heaven, And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'