I t is all right to put angels everywhere during the Advent and Christmas season. Because you can see from them what Christmas means. Namely, it does not mean anything good for angels. For they slide down the celestial hierarchy.
What changes for the angels with the birth of Jesus Christ can already be seen in the formula with which they now address people. "Do not be afraid," says the angel as he announces to Mary that she will give birth to the Savior. Just like the angel who announces the birth to the shepherds in Bethlehem: "Do not be afraid."
To take away the fear of the people in such a way, is by no means self-evident for angels. In the Old Testament, they approach people with respect and sometimes gruffly. They seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to be afraid of them. But with the birth of God’s Son, a time begins for the angels in which they are no longer allowed to use their potential for authority and violence.
Jesus renounces the army of angels
Jesus himself hints at this. When he is taken prisoner before the crucifixion and Peter wants to cut him out with the sword, Jesus calls the disciple to order and gives this reason: "Or do you think I could not ask my Father to immediately send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). But this is exactly what Jesus does not do: He does not ask for the army of angels.
This is also not sent by God. Apparently, God is now prepared to be governed solely by the laws of the human world, even if this means the death of his Son. This delivery of God to the human world has the consequence that the angels are no longer allowed to show what they can do.
The angels must now subordinate themselves. First, they get an additional superior, Jesus Christ. That he is above the angels, the New Testament says plainly in the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus, it says there, "has become as much higher than the angels, as the name he has inherited is higher than their name" (Hebrews 1:3).
Christians judge the angels
But secondly, and this is dramatic for the angels, they are now also under the jurisdiction of men. At least among those who believe in Jesus and are saved by him, that is, among Christians.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth (1. (1 Corinthians 6:3): "Do you not know that we will judge angels??"
A spectacular sentence: Christians are so superior to the angels that one day they will fall under the jurisdiction of men.
The angels grumble
Artists, by the way, noticed early that with the coming of Jesus the subordination of the angels to the people begins. In many Renaissance paintings, the Annunciation scene, where the angel informs Mary about the birth of Jesus, is depicted in such a way that the angel rushes in to Mary with great momentum, but keeps his head humbly lowered. Because the angel is the inferior here.
In the novel "Joseph and His Brothers" Thomas Mann already imagined for the Old Testament times that the angels had long seen this coming in a worried way. There the angels complain that God is much more interested in man than in the angels.
God is drawn to man. So much that he becomes man in Jesus himself. Ergo: Not only we need God, but he also needs us.
Great praise for Mary
That the relations between God, the angels and the people change, can already be seen in that story, which stands at the beginning of the Advent season, in just that Annunciation scene with Mary and the angel (Luke 1, 26-38). The first thing that Mary hears from the angel is a praise of the human woman: "Greetings, you blessed one! The Lord is with you!"
The respect that the angel has to show to Mary becomes even clearer in Martin Luther’s original translation of 1545. There Mary is addressed by the angel as "Gebenedeiete" and "Holdselige". She is the "most praised of women".
After Mary is a bit frightened – and the angel immediately says "Do not be afraid" – he explains to her that she will become pregnant and give birth to the "Son of the Most High". But Mary, quite self-confident, does not simply accept this, but demands more detailed explanations about a pregnancy that has not been preceded by a sexual act: "How is this to happen," she asks, "since I know of no man??"The divine does not simply understand itself for them, but is in need of explanation, yes, in need of explanation towards men.
Accordingly, the angel gets into difficulties of explanation concerning the pregnancy. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you," he says cloudily, "and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."
As if he himself realizes that this is not exactly a plausible explanation of the virgin pregnancy, he resorts to another crutch, namely a halay analogous example. He refers to Mary’s relative Elizabeth, who shortly before had become pregnant in old age (with John the Baptist), which shows that "no thing is impossible" for God. Well.
How Mary becomes pregnant is not made clear in the Bible. In Luke it remains just as incomprehensible as in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew. There we learn in the first chapter only that Mary was promised to Joseph as a wife and it turned out before the wedding "that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit". The only thing that is certain is that Joseph is not the biological father. For he wants to leave her at first, knowing that the child cannot be his. But the Bible does not provide a reproductive diagnosis.
Therefore it would be nonsense, far from the text, to imagine the course of a virgin pregnancy with ear births or other contortions. But there is also no indication that Mary slept with another man. Assume only that she conceived and gave birth to other children naturally. Because Jesus has brothers and sisters who have no mention of the Holy Spirit.
Maria skips the angel
That, on the other hand, the pregnancy with Jesus is not made plausible, Mary clearly tells the angel in the Annunciation scene. After the angel invokes the Holy Spirit and refers to Elizabeth, Mary does not say, "Ah, now she understands. Rather, she simply ignores the angel’s explanatory efforts and replies: "I am the Lord’s handmaid; let it be to me as you have said."
The angel of Mary is needed here only as a messenger who must communicate what God wants to happen to Mary. The angel is no longer needed as an explanatory mediator between God and man. He himself cannot explain what is happening now.
He only delivers the message, which now concerns Mary alone, in direct contact with God. In this context, one can be happy about the angel and about His kind, but what is decisive is that it is about us humans. After the Fall, the angels blocked our access to Paradise, but now they have to let us back in because God wants to forgive our sins. This is Christmas.