December 7th, 2014
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
When I hear the word “celestial” the first things that come to my mind are Star Trek, Star Wars, or Dr. Who traveling through time and space in a blue police box.
So out of curiosity and nerdy compulsion, I looked up “celestial” in the dictionary. It comes from Middle English celestialis and is equivalent to the Latin caelesti, meaning heavenly, combined with the suffix estis meaning “sky”. So, there you have it, “celestial” has to do with the heavenly.
And during Advent and Christmas we have plenty of heavenly things to celebrate. Jesus’ coming again in glory, the new heavens and earth that he promises his baptized. Jesus’ coming to us here and now in his holy Word and holy sacraments – the Lord’s Supper is called heaven on earth for that reason! Jesus’ first coming in human flesh, where heaven came to dwell on earth.
Even the sacred music of the Advent and Christmas season is heavenly sounding. Music is a handmaiden to the Gospel, says Luther. And that seems fitting for tonight’s theme.
But of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the angels. Any meditation on all things celestial during Advent and Christmas must include the angels.
Every Sunday Christians confess the angels in the Creeds of the Church, though you might not recognize it at first. We confess that God is the make of all things visible and invisible. And that includes the angels, created “celestial” beings, servants of the Lord. Sometimes they appear in the OT, like when Isaiah sees them around the throne of God or Israel hears them marching in the tree tops above them and ahead of them into battle. An angel appeared to Zechariah the priest to announce John the Baptizer’s coming, to Mary, Joseph, even John in the book of Revelation, just to name a few.
Now, because they don’t always make an appearance, many have tried depicting angels. But don’t be fooled. Angels are not at all like the cute, cuddly pictures you see on Hallmark cards this time of year. I think they would find that a bit humorous to be honest. You don’t find anyone in the Bible who sees an angel wanting to run up and pinch their cheeks and scruffle their heads. No, angels are not the nostalgic kinds of celestial beings we think. They’re a bit more like Jedi Knights or the elves and good wizards of Middle-Earth, or perhaps the Navy SEALs. They evoke a sense of fear and reverence, awe and holiness at their arrival.
That’s why the first thing out of their mouths is almost always: “Do not be afraid.”
And the next thing is always some kind of message. After all, that’s their job. Angel comes from the Greek word for messenger. Angels waste no time talking about themselves. They have a message to deliver. Angels want no worship or attention focused on them, only that we hear the message.
And so during this celestial season, let us ponder and remember the angels’ message:
How an angel came to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
How an angel came to Joseph, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
And how the angel hosts came to the Shepherds and declared:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The angels are heralds of what is truly celestial about Advent and Christmas: heaven comes to earth. God becomes man. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
The final frontier isn’t out there in space…as the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin allegedly said, “I went to space but I didn’t find God.” No, that’s not the right place to look. The Creator of the stars of night becomes a creature. Jesus is born, not in a galaxy far, far away, but in a stable outside of Jerusalem, a manger that’s bigger on the inside than the outside.
The angels’ points us to Christ. Why stand ye gazing up to the heavens? Look to the manger. Behold where heaven comes to earth in Mary’s womb. Perfect God and perfect zygote. True God and yet true human embryo. Begotten of the Father before all worlds, yet born of a virgin. The Creator comes swaddled in the stuff of His creation – a diapered deity. Glory to God in the highest…whose birth ward smells of manure and hay.
But do not think that this is beneath God, or that this is the opposite of a heavenly birth. It is. For God is not ashamed of lowliness. He becomes who you are – a woman’s child, born under the Law – so that you can become children of God.
That’s what this Advent and Christmas season is all about. Jesus is not the reason for the season. You are. Jesus was born for you. One small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. He was made man. Contrary to the popular Christmas hymn: little baby Jesus did cry. He became man as you are, for you. And yet God with us, Immanuel: heaven on earth in Jesus. God with us. So, God cried. God dirtied His diapers. God learned His ABC’s. God played in the wood shavings of Joseph’s workshop. God suffered for you. God bled for you. God died for you.
That’s the word of Christmas: the Word made flesh for you, a celestial Savior clothed in our humanity, and robed in our humility to bring us to heaven, to live with him there.