…angel spottings become less frequent as the Hebrew Bible progresses. In 1-2 Samuel, the angel of the Lord appears only once; in 1-2 Kings, only three times. The angel guides Israel from Egypt in the first exodus, but no angels lead Israel’s second exodus from Babylon.
So, it’s a shock to turn from Malachi and find the next page teeming with angels. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there a cluster of angelophanies like those in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. Joseph dreams of angels. An angel tells him to take Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:20, 24), instructs him to flee from Herod (Matt. 2:13), and assures him it’s safe to return home (Matt. 2:19). Gabriel visits Zecharias in the temple to announce the birth of John (Luke 1:11-13) and brings Mary news of the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). An angel heralds Jesus’s birth to shepherds (Luke 2:9-10), and then he’s joined by a multitude of angels praising God (Luke 2:13).
We’re so familiar with this Christmas scene that we don’t realize how unique it is. Among the saints of Israel, only Jacob saw what those shepherds saw, the hosts of heaven, and Jacob didn’t hear them sing. In the old covenant, angelic hosts stayed put in heaven, worshipping at the heavenly throne. With the birth of Jesus, heaven comes to earth. As they sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).