Heralding the Christmas Angels
Take a deeper look at the various angels with roles during the birth of Jesus.
Have a question about angels? Email Bill Webber firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: In honor of the advent season, this month's column addresses commonly asked questions about the angels associated with Jesus' birth.
- How many times did angels appear?
- What did the angels have in common?
- What did Mary's angel look like?
- What did the shepherds' first angel look like?
- What did the angels sing to the shepherds?
- What message did the shepherds hear from the angels?
- How did Joseph's angel appear to him?
- How often did Mary see angels?
The angels appeared five times. The two most well-known appearances are:
- The angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and giving the message that she was to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).
- The angel Gabriel appearing to the shepherds and bringing the news that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. A multitude of heavenly hosts then joined in proclaiming, "Glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2:8-20).
Here are the three other Christmas-related angelic appearances:
- Luke begins his account of the Christmas story by writing that Zechariah the priest received news of his wife's pregnancy from Angel Gabriel. To make certain that his readers understood this was an important part of the Christmas story, Luke explains that the child would be named John (later known as the Baptist) and he would prepare the way for Jesus. Elizabeth, Zechariah's wife, was six months pregnant when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:11-25).
- After the Magi's visit, an angel warned Joseph that Herod was trying to kill the baby Jesus. The angel instructed Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus (Matthew 2: 13).
- After the death of Herod an angel told Joseph to return to Israel with Mary and Jesus (Matthew 2:19).
The word, "angel" is derived from the Hebrew and Greek words which mean "messenger." In all five accounts, the angels that are a part of the Christmas story were delivering a message.
What did the angel that appeared to Mary look like?
The Bible does not tell us. The text simply says that Mary was greatly troubled at Gabriel’s greeting but not his appearance (Luke 1:29). The earliest Christian paintings depicted Gabriel in the form of a man during the annunciation. Hundreds of years later, artists began to paint him as an angel with wings.