Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why Did Jesus Need a "Host" That First Christmas?

The "heavenly host" as presented on Bible Universe. If you are fond of this image of the First Christmas, you may not want to read on.

Why Did Jesus Need a "Host" That First Christmas?

We know from Luke's gospel, as well as from many a Christmas carol, that Jesus was greeted by a "heavenly host." It was a member of that armed force who told the shepherds that He had been born.

"Host" is a most peculiar word. It and its cognates in our language and its brother and sister languages can have quite opposite meanings. Think of "hostile," hospitality," "She was a good and gracious host," "a hostile host confronted the king." In that last sentence, "host" means "army." It is precisely that meaning that is meant in English translations of Luke 2:13.

While the word "peace" most frequently comes to mind on the commemoration of the Prince of Peace's nativity, it was a most warlike bunch that announced his birth. Indeed I tempted to think that Luke 2:14 is a challenge and response: "Glory to God in the Highest!" "And peace to men of good will!" In other words, the first set of angel guards demanded a password from the next.

If these celestial warriors were singing, it was to keep in step as any army until modern times did. (Luke does not say they sang by the way.)

Why did Jesus need an armed guard? There were more than baaing sheep and curious shepherds abroad. The Prince of this World and his allies in it play for keeps. Ask the Holy Innocents.

Do not be misled by pictures of the pretty angels in flowing gauze on Christmas cards. These angels were armed to the hilt!

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