When Jesus was born, “the angel of the Lord appeared” (Lk 2:9), and it was the angel who spoke. Did this angel appear at other times? Did this angel have a name? And, why did the angel appear when Jesus was born?
The Angel of the Lord’s appearances. When the angel of the Lord appeared on Christmas, it was not the first time, nor was it the last. In the Old Testament the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:2); led the Israelites in the desert (Ex 14:19); called Gideon (Jgs 6:11-18); appeared to Manoah’s wife and Manoah to announce the birth of Samuel (Jgs 13:3-5,9,11-23), and to Daniel (Dan 9:21-27). In the New Testament, the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah (Lk 1:11-20) and Mary (Lk 1:26-38) to announce the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Later in Acts the angel of the Lord released the apostles from jail and instructed them to preach in the temple area (Acts 5:19-20); appeared to Philip to give him directions (Acts 8:26); appeared to Peter in prison (Acts 12:7); and struck King Herod dead (Acts 12:23).
The Angel of the Lord’s identity. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife, she described him as “a man of God” (Jgs 13:6). Manoah probed further and asked the angel, “What is your name?” (Jgs 13:17), but the angel gave no reply. After the angel ascended in a flame, Manoah said, “We have seen God” (Jgs 13:22). Daniel knew the angel as Gabriel (Dan 9:21), the same name as the angel who appeared to Zechariah and Mary (Lk 1:19,26). The angel who spoke on Christmas goes nameless, as does the angel who appeared in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Significance of the Angel of the Lord on Christmas Night. The angel came from heaven (Lk 2:15) which meant that the angel served as God’s representative and messenger. The angel’s presence was a dramatic sign that something of epic proportions was taking place; and when the angel spoke, it was God who was speaking, and what was said was a divine proclamation.
The Message. The angel delivered a royal declaration to the whole world that revealed the identity of the newborn baby boy: Mary’s infant son is Savior, Messiah, and Lord (Lk 2:11).
A Privileged Pronouncement. The announcement of the birth of the Son of God was so momentous that it was reserved. No human being, no matter how important or holy, not Moses or Elijah, not Isaiah or John the Baptist, was of sufficient stature to speak. The pronouncement was reserved to God, and God alone, and when God spoke, it gave the message supreme authority. The shepherds verified the angel’s role after the angel departed: “the Lord has made [this] known to us” (Lk 2:15).
About Father Michael Van Sloun
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.
© 2008, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.