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When The Angels Are Gone

by Bob Russell

Bob Russell1“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven…”   Luke 2:15

The shepherds had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  An angel miraculously appeared out of nowhere and announced the birth of the Messiah.  Then, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

What a spectacular, exhilarating experience!  Those Judean herdsmen would doubtless remember that moment and replay that scene in their minds the rest of their lives.  How privileged they were!  They were fired up!  When the angels faded into the night sky, Luke’s gospel tells us they, “hurried off to find the Christ-child and spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” (Luke 2:17).

I find verse 20 of particular interest as we begin a new year.  “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…”  The angels had departed, the baby Jesus had been visited, the exciting news had been shared, now they returned to their mundane task of tending sheep.  Their lives would never be the same but they still had to make a living so they went back to work.  That meant once again sleeping on the hard ground, trying to keep warm on cold nights, staying alert to dangerous predators and reclaiming stray lambs that had wandered off.  They returned to the same ‘ole, same ‘ole.

As a young boy I remember hearing my five-year-old brother sniffling on Christmas night.  We had just had a great Christmas.  We got everything we hoped for and had played with new toys all day.  But just about the time I was falling asleep, I heard him crying.  “What’s wrong with you?” I asked.  “He whimpered, “Three hundred and sixty five more days until another Christmas!”

How do you handle it when Christmas is over and the angels are gone?  The real test of our character is not how we respond to the spiritual highs but how well we function during ordinary times.  Spiritual highs are rare. The crucial issue is, how do you live during the routine, unexciting days after the angels are long gone?

Cavett Robert, popular motivational speaker, used to say, “Character is the ability to stay with a resolution long after the mood in which the resolution was made, has left.”  That’s why Jesus challenged us to take up our cross daily and follow Him.

In January it always seems like the angels are gone.  The lights and decorations are taken down; the excitement of Christmas is over and the gray days of winter settle in.  Do you continue to be kind to others, attend church, serve the needy, discipline your desires, practice a daily quiet time, give generously of your resources?  Or do you just perform good deeds on special days when it’s more exciting?

The test of a Godly marriage is not the honeymoon but six months later when your unkempt mate is lying on the couch, coughing and sneezing with the flu and asking you to bring some hot soup and fresh orange juice when you’re watching a crucial game on television.  Can you still be tender, loving, patient, when the angels are gone?

When the newness of your occupation wears off and the initial words of encouragement have faded, do you still show up on time even when it’s cold outside and you don’t feel like it?  Do you maintain a daily intensity and give your best when everyone around you is going half speed?

I tell younger preachers they should regard the Sunday after Easter as important as Easter Sunday.   It’s easy to be intense and study hard for the special days.  Are you disciplined enough the week after Easter to sequester yourself in the office and study just as hard for the next sermon, even though you know the attendance will be down and the spirit won’t be nearly as electric?

My friend Rick Atchley, an outstanding Texas pastor, suggests to preachers that it’s better to hit four singles in a row than to hit one home run and strike out three times.  Consistency and faithfulness matter more than charisma and dazzle.

A favorite poem of the late Wayne Smith was:

       The test of a man’s devotion will come some other day. 

      They love God most who are at their post when the crowds have gone away.

Peter, James and John had a spectacular mountaintop experience when they saw the Lord transfigured before them.  Jesus’ clothes were dazzling white and Moses and Elijah, who had died centuries before, stood with Him.  They heard the voice of God say, “This is my son in whom I’m well pleased.  Hear Him!”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Lord, this is a marvelous experience!  Let’s build three memorials here; one for you and one each for Moses and Elijah.  Then we can come back to this mountain and relive this experience.  Jesus denied that request and informed His disciples that they were needed at the bottom of the hill.  When they reentered the valley of reality they encountered a demon-possessed boy who needed special attention and healing.

There are a few spiritual mountain-peaks in the life of every Christian.  When we yield our life to Christ and are baptized, when we witness a close friend come to the Lord, when we return from a spiritual retreat, when a new grandchild is born, or when we observe a dramatic answer to prayer, we’re ecstatic.   We’d like to somehow bottle those spiritual highs and keep them forever.  We wish we felt that close to God all the time.

It’s important that our expectations be realistic.  Angels don’t appear very often.  Mountaintop experiences are rare.  We’re not expected to be on a spiritual high every day.  We are expected to be faithful in the valley of the routine when life isn’t as exciting.

The late Howard Thurman, influential African American author and theologian summed it up:  “When the song of the angels is silent, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and the princes are home, when the shepherds are again tending the sheep, when the manger is darkened and still, the work of Christ begins.”


Gleaned with permission from www.bobrussell.org

Bob Russell is Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33