- people who died (Highway to Heaven; It's a Wonderful Life; The Littlest Angel; Unlikely Angel)
- needing to be taught and to earn their rank (It's a Wonderful Life, Touched by an Angel; The Kid with the Broken Halo; Date with an Angel)
- messengers who share God's love (Touched by an Angel)
- babies (Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey)
- men and women (Touched by an Angel)
- assigned to a specific person (It's a Wonderful Life)
- helping people in ways that have nothing to do with worshiping God (Angels in the Outfield; Unlikely Angel; The Bishop's Wife; The Preacher's Wife)
- capable of romantic attraction to humans (The Bishop's wife; Date with a Angel)
- working as a matchmaker (Michael)
- given to jealousy, smoking, drinking, or other sins (Michael, Highway to Heaven)
- willing to give up heaven to stay on earth (Date with an Angel)
- having feathers in their wings
- bringing blessings of healing, wealth, or romance
So that is what we are presented with. But what does the Bible say? Here are five important truths about angels.
They are spirits, not people.
The Bible is clear that angels are NOT people who died. Rather, they are a special creation of God (Psalm 148:1-5). They are always depicted as adult males in the Bible, and they do not marry (Matthew 22:30). Where the Bible does mention wings, it says they have six, not two (Isaiah 6:2). They are spirit, and not generally seen by humans without special circumstances (Hebrews 1:14; 2 Kings 6:17). When they do mingle with humans, it is sometimes in disguise (Hebrews 13:2), as when they just show up, they are filled with light and glory to a degree that people who see them are struck with fear - have you ever noticed that one of the first things angels say in the Bible is, "Fear not!"? There is a reason for that!
Created for a purpose
The angels have different jobs to do. They are God's messengers, which is what the term "angel" actually means. They are servants of God and "those who will inherit salvation" (Heb. 1:14) - namely, those of us who follow Jesus! They are warriors and protectors of God's people (Daniel 10:20). They are organized, with some angels, such as Michael, clearly shown as leaders over others (Daniel 10:21; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7-8).
Focused on God, not anything else.
Contrary to what is presented in popular culture, angels are not primarily focused on helping someone to find wealth or romance, or even meaning in life apart from God. Nor are they spirit guides who work apart from God. Except for the fallen angels, who do the work of Satan (Revelation 12:7-9), their focus is on worshiping God (Hebrews 10:22), directing worship to God (Revelation 22:9), and directing and protecting God's people. The messages they bring in the Scriptures are not about meeting Mr. Right, but messages from God of prophecy and righteousness and judgement.
Powerful, but limited.
Angels in Scripture are shown as powerful warriors and full of light - so amazing that even God's people are tempted to fall down before them in worship (Revelation 22:9). They are powerful, but also limited. They are not all-knowing (1 Peter 1:12), and they cannot be in more than one place at a time (Daniel 10:13).
Deserving respect, but not worship.
It is clear in the Bible that while angels deserve respect as God's messengers (Luke 1:19-20), they should never be worshiped (Revelation 22:9; Colossians 2:18). They are not mini-gods or goddesses. At. All.
Why this matters at Christmas time
What difference does this make at Christmastime? As I've shared before, learning discernment about the beliefs we are confronted with in popular media is SO important, both as believers ourselves and as moms raising disciples. Christmas, with all of its cultural trappings, is an important time to learn to discern truth from tradition.
The other reason this matters so much is because the involvement of angels signifies something important. When we see the role that angels play in the Bible - bringing messages from God, pronouncing judgement, and acting as protectors for God's people - we can see that they do this in the Christmas story as well. They bring messages from God to Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and to the Magi about ancient prophecies that would be fulfilled and about judgement for unbelief, reassuring them that God had not forgotten His people, and giving them specific instructions to find the infant Savior and to avoid danger.
The interesting thing about this is that, in spite that belief in angels is often ridiculed as being old-fashioned, people in ancient times weren't exactly used to interacting with them. When you look throughout the Bible, in fact, you find that visits by angels were concentrated on key moments in redemptive history - Creation, the times of the patriarchs, the time of Moses and the giving of the law, the times of Daniel and his friends in exile, and the times of certain prophets. There may have been isolated visions sprinkled through at other times, but mostly that was it, until the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the times of the early church.
Why is that? Because those times were significant in the timeline of God carrying out his plan of redemption, and no time was more significant than heralding the entrance of the Son of God into the world. As one of the newer Christmas songs goes, "a baby changes everything."
Do we realize how true that is? How much actually changed with Jesus' life? Because of this baby, we can know God. We can have forgiveness from everything that the Law could never free us from. Gentiles outside of God's chosen nation can have a relationship with the God of Israel. We can have hope, even in the darkest moments of history and of our lives, that God's plan is at work and that his love, expressed in its fullness in the sending of Jesus, will always triumph.
When you see angels in the Christmas story this year, I hope you will do several things.
First, remember what the Bible teaches about them so that you are not deceived by what the world teaches.
Second, model for your children where to find the truth about angels and everything else - the Word of God.
Third, be filled with awe, not only at the mystery that angels are to us, but also the realization that their involvement at the birth of Jesus points to the incredible importance of this event in history.
For Christmas ultimately is not simply a story of a cute little baby sung to by sweet-faced angels over a warm and cozy stable.
It is God throwing down the gauntlet in his amazing rescue plan, stepping into human history in the person of Jesus, in a move so unprecedented and so paradigm-changing that the fiercest warriors of Heaven were dispatched to make sure everything would unfold exactly as it needed to, from his birth to his death and resurrection. It is majestic angels interacting with ordinary people who were taking part in an extraordinary moment in history, with the ultimate result that you and I, thousands of years later, would be drawn into a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And when you look at angels in that light, all the fluff that is passed off as "angelic" by Hollywood seems rather silly indeed.