The 7 Christmas Angels


The New Testament tells us that there were at least seven appearances by angels leading up to or surrounding the birth of Christ. The word angel comes from the Greek angelos which means “messenger.”

The angel Gabriel (“God is my strength”—I like that name) is identified in two separate appearances. Gabriel is actually Noah as identified in modern revelation and is also an Elias, or forerunner.

Each appearance seems to have a special purpose. I thought it would be fun to explore the purpose of each visit.

  1. A message fulfilling a long hoped for wish. Gabriel visited Zacharias in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem to announce the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11–20). Gabriel actually was a forerunner who announced the birth of yet another forerunner, John. I think it’s interesting that Gabriel appeared just outside of the holy of holies in the temple, the place where the high priest annually appeared on the day of atonement in behalf of all Israel. The day is known as Yom Kippur. Gabriel’s announcement was not well received by Zacharias—he doubted. It must have been a pretty serious doubt because he was struck dumb—the “penalty of doubt” according to James E. Talmage—until the day his son was circumcised (see number 4).
  2. A message for the ages. Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26–38). Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph and was likely still a teenage girl. Imagine her thought processes as she was told she was going to become pregnant, miraculously, before her marriage, with the Son of God. I ask myself why God timed this pregnancy before the actual marriage when no suspicions would arise. The path to obedience and faithfulness can be a steep climb and requires a lot of patience and faith from us, sometimes even persecution.
  3. A message of assurance. An angel visited Joseph in Nazareth in a dream, assuring him that his soon-to-be wife Mary was bearing a holy child (Matthew 1:20–25). Matthew doesn’t name this angel, but it is reasonable to believe that it was Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to his fiancé Mary. Joseph was having a hard time believing Mary’s pregnancy story—like a lot of us men, we can be a little slow in catching on. But after the angel came, he was emboldened and married her soon after. I love how both Mary and Joseph were eager to take their on these divine commitments seriously.
  4. A prophetic message and ordinance. An angel visited John when only eight days old to ordain him to the priesthood (D&C 84:27–28; see also Luke 1:39, 65). This was likely the same day that John was circumcised, the day that Zacharias’s voice was restored. I love the way Zacharias affirms, “His name is John” when some questioned why the baby boy wasn’t named for his father. That non-verbal affirmation was an affirmation of faith after which the penalty of his doubt was lifted and his prophetic Benedictus was uttered. While he was still young, John lived in the desert (see Luke 1:80), perhaps to avoid persecution or even death, for though disputed by scholars, the Protoevangelium of James states that Zacharias was murdered for protecting the whereabouts of John.
  5. A glad message of great joy. Angels visited shepherds near Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:9–14). I love how the angels appeared—first just one angel and then a multitude—to “the most humble in the social order of that time,” according to Dallin H. Oaks, which to me is evidence that “the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones” (D&C 1:19) and that “the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised” will come forth to “thresh the nations by the power of [his] Spirit” (D&C 35:13).
  6. A message of warning and protection. An angel visited Joseph in Bethlehem to warn him to flee Herod’s barbarous soldiers and escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). After Jesus was born, the little family must have stayed on in Bethlehem for several years, for according to the wise men, the star heralding Christ’s birth had appeared two years before they arrived in Palestine to seek out and worship the child. The angel warned Joseph to depart quickly to protect Jesus from Herod’s murderous jealousy (man, that guy had issues). I am sure the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, helped to finance their travels.
  7. A message to come home. An angel visited Joseph in Egypt, commanding him to return to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:19–20) which eventually led them back to their native Nazareth. I have often thought about how long they were in Egypt, who they met there, and what they learned. I also think about the little family returning to Nazareth after what might have been a long absence, and maybe with more than one child (Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters [see Matthew 13:55–56]). Perhaps they heard, “Where on earth have you guys been?” How much of their story could they tell? How much did they dare tell?

Finally, it’s inspiring to me that the command to “fear not” is repeated four times by  angels during these visits (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13, 30; Luke 2:10.) I am not sure of the meanings in the original sources, but in the translated versions, that is a command, given repeatedly, in an imperative voice, by divine messengers.

We have a loyal helper, an inspired guide, an invincible protector, a Savior. His name is Jesus Christ—a name you can trust. This is the ultimate message of the angels: We need never be afraid again.

[This post was first published in December 2016.]

Find Lasting Peace in Troubled Times


Peace comes and goes for most of us, day to day, possibly several times a day, but there is a peace that lasts. It doesn’t go away unless we choose to go away from it. It’s a peace that “passeth all understanding” (see Philippians 4:7), a peace from God. Because we come from God, it’s not surprising that abiding peace comes from Him too.

My hope is to share a few things that have given me a peace that endures in troubled times.

You’ll probably read or hear these angelic words more than once this Christmas season:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14.)

The sentiment is familiar, but the King James rendition might not have captured the original meaning.

Consider several other translations of Luke 2:14 (emphasis mine). Let’s start with the Wycliffe Bible, translated under the direction of John Wycliffe in the late 1300s:

Glory be in the highest things to God, and in earth peace be to men of good will.

Here’s how the New International Version (1970s) renders it:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And here’s yet another sense from The Message, Edward Peterson’s translation completed in 2002.

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

There’s a theme here: Peace will come to those who please God, to men and women of good will, on whom His favor rests.

Just before He entered the garden of Gethsemane, Christ said:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27.)

That’s not situational peace. He was about to suffer more than anyone was capable of suffering (see D&C 19:15–20), but His understanding rested on what would result from that suffering. In spite of betrayal, tribulation, or torture, in spite of what the world was saying or doing, he found a peace that was not of this world:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33.)

The religious establishment of the day could harm His body and inflict on Him unimaginable pain, but they could not take His peace.

He told us in this dispensation where to find that peace:

But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. (D&C 59:23; emphasis mine).

I love this verse about Enoch. It’s not often cited, but it describes to me one of the greatest sources of peace:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5; emphasis added).

To walk the path our Heavenly Father intends us walk,  and to remain on that path, can lead us to the testimony that our course pleases Him—a lasting source of peace. If we do our best to follow our heart and conscience, imperfect as we may be, we can have faith and not be troubled about the future.

That’s my wish for you this Christmas season: A testimony of your standing before Him, and peace of mind in this world and real hope in the world to come.

[This post was first published in Decemeber 2016.]

The Wexford Carol by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Here is a beautiful arrangement of an English carol that dates from the 16th century. Listen. I promise you’ll feel better when you do. Lyrics follow.

Good people all, this Christmastime,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belovèd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

[This post was first published in December 2016.]

“What Child Is This?”—from the Heart

At a prison worship service today, I heard an inmate sing “What Child Is This?” Not a performance by a trained artist but sung from the heart, if not from an even deeper place. And yes, it was on key too. An act of pure worship by one of the most serene men I know.

This inmate spent nearly 20 years “in the hole” (solitary confinement), but now he’s a man of presence and peace. He’s redeemed. An expert of the soul. And he’s about to be released prison. I cherish the performance I witnessed today.

Here’s another beautiful performance of the song, followed by lyrics.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant king to own Him,
The King of kings, salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Will You Light the World?

Here’s a video I can’t resist sharing. Every day starting December 1 and leading up to Christmas is an opportunity to remember the things our Savior did and to follow His example. Here you’ll find daily inspiration on 25 ways to follow the example of Jesus Christ in your daily life—and make this season unforgettable.

Because He is the light of the world (John 8:12), we can light the world (Matthew 5:14).

My Christmas Sword

I was pretty surprised to receive a 47-inch broadsword for Christmas. I absolutely love it, of course, but I wondered why my wife would give me such an impractical gift. I mean, it’s a pretty cool butter knife, but I can’t really take it out of the house.

When I asked her later why she gave me the sword, I didn’t expect her answer. “You’re a warrior,” she said. “You need a weapon.”

As you can well imagine, that made me feel a little dangerous. I am not entirely sure why I like feeling dangerous, but John Eldredge does.

My wife recently read Wild at Heart by Eldredge. And she got me a copy of it to read too. (It’s in the queue. The short one.) I am eager to find out why I like feeling dangerous.

Maybe my wife actually needs me for something. Maybe I might actually be useful to her. Maybe she wants a warrior to be near her.

The notion means a lot to me. It makes me want to be even more useful, to try harder to shield and defend and protect, if only spiritually or even symbolically.

My wife knighted me. And that really means a lot.

"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

This music video, set in a prison, is certainly unique . . . and effective. It moved me deeply.

Infant holy, infant lowly,
for his bed a cattle stall.
Oxen lowing, little knowing,
Christ the babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing,
Noels ringing, tidings bringing.
Christ the babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
vigil till the morning new
saw the glory, heard the story,
tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
praises voicing, greet the morrow.
Christ the babe was born for you.