“Fear not” said the angel to the shepherds, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Fear not. Angels seem to have a habit of saying that. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias told him not to be afraid. The same angel said the same thing to Mary.
I suppose most of us have assumed that the sudden appearance of the angel is what frightened Zacharias and Mary. The glory of the Lord shone around the angel that spoke to the shepherds, and a sudden light on a dark night must have been frightening.
But what if the angels themselves were scary creatures. Angels don’t have bodies as we do. They are spirit creatures. They can take on bodies from time to time in order to appear to human beings, but the bodies they take on may not always have the same form. Sometimes they look like normal men, as when two angels and the Lord dropped by Abraham’s tent for dinner. By the way, in the Bible, angels never appear as women or children. Angels are never gentle and soft. Sometimes angels appear with four wings or six wings. The angels Ezekiel saw had four wings and four hands.
As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle (Ezekiel 1:10).
What if the angels who appeared to the shepherds looked like that? While our granddaughter Meghan was staying with us, I loaned her a word burner and gave her a piece of wood. This is what she produced in an afternoon. It is one of Ezekiel’s angels with four wings. Two of his hands are visible and three of his faces – the lion, the eagle, and the man’s face. The bull’s face would be out of sight in the back. Over the head of the angel some wheels within a wheel, and as Ezekiel says, its rims are full of eyes. Underneath the angel are the words, “Fear Not.”
If one of these angels appeared surrounded by a blindingly bright light, you or I would certainly be terrified. I don’t know what the shepherds saw when the terror of the Lord fell upon them. Perhaps they looked like men without wings. Perhaps they looked like Ezekiel’s angels. In any case, the words of the angel were certainly necessary, “Fear not.”
When angels appear, they frequently display some of the glory of the Lord, and when they do, they are awesome and fearful to behold. God uses these servants of His to impress upon us the fact that He is great and terrifying. No human being is able to stand in His presence.
BUT God is also gentle and kind. When He sent His Son to the earth to save us from our sins, how did He have Him appear? He came as a tiny, helpless baby who had to be cuddled and carried and clothed. He had to be nursed at His mother’s breast. He had to learn to sit up, and then to crawl, and then to toddle back and forth between Joseph and Mary.
You and I would not feel comfortable walking up to a scary angel for a casual chat, but we can draw near to a baby in a bed of hay. The angels teach us that God is powerful and terrifying. The baby Jesus teaches us that God is approachable. He is approachable through Jesus. If you come to God through Jesus, He will accept you. If you try to come to God on your own, watch out lest an angry angel cast you out of heaven before you get anywhere near the throne of God.
You don’t have to fear the angels if, like the shepherds, you are going to Jesus. The brightest, scariest angel would say to you, “Fear not, go to Bethlehem and see your Savior. Fear not, go to Calvary and see the Lamb slain for your sins. Fear not, go to the empty tomb and confess Jesus as your risen Lord.”