I wanted to be the angel.
The Christmas Eve living nativity was populated with my classmates – cotton-ball beards for the shivering pint-sized shepherds, a blue tablecloth draped over Mary’s head, a plastic doll nestled in her arms that looked suspiciously female. Joseph in a bathrobe repurposed for the occasion. And presiding above the hallowed scene, swathed in the gossamer of a nylon curtain her mother had edged with gold ric-rac, a tinsel halo trembling above her brow, the angel. Amy Snow, she of the blonde curls and blue eyes, the ivory skin, petite and angelic in every sphere from spelling class to Sunday school. It had to be cold in that costume, perched at the top of a ladder, but she looked positively serene.
Not picked. Gangly, tomboyish, brown-haired, brown-eyed, un-angelic. I shuffled past the scene, hardly noticing the live donkey brought in to heighten the realism. I wanted to be the angel. Any elementary school girl can tell you that the angel is living nativity gold.
As I grew older, I took some satisfaction in learning that angels in the Bible were not actually female. Not petite, and often fearsome. Messengers who delivered the words of the Lord, but who never played the starring role (take that, Amy Snow). But I found that I still wanted to be an angel, and not just on Christmas Eve. When sorrow or difficulty visited my life I sometimes considered how much better it would be to enjoy the sinlessness known by the angels, to get to dwell in the very presence of God where my whole purpose was to give Him the worship he deserved. Uncomplicated. Pure. It’s no wonder so many people believe they will become angels when they die.
But I wonder if being an angel would truly be that simple. Watching humanity labor under the burden of sin and sorrow across millennia. Warring against those they once called brothers, fallen angels for whom there is not a whisper of redemption possible. Blasting the trumpet of judgment as often as the trumpet of joy. Never knowing sin, yes, but also never knowing grace as those shepherds in a field on a dark night would know it.
I have stopped longing to be the angel. The older I grow the more I understand the treasure of the gospel, a message announced by angels but not within their experience to comprehend. The sinless creature cannot savor firsthand the sweetness of salvation. The message the angels heralded was not for them. The fullness of the gospel, displayed in the finished work of Christ, which prophets of old saw in part and labored diligently to understand, that message is for the sons of Earth – a thing into which angels long to look.
As you worship the Lord this Christmas Eve, as you sing of angels in glorious array, ponder this thought: the gospel announced in the form of an infant is for you. It is the hope of ages, the light in the darkness of our sin, the mystery of redemption that only fallen man can fully know. It is the longing of angels.
On this night of remembrance, do not envy the angels. For gazing on the mystery of the incarnation, the angels envy us.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. -- Luke 2:10-11