The Bible is full of surprising and unexpected events, and the Christmas story is no exception.

The first chapter of Luke sets the scene. Zacharias was performing his normal duties inside the temple according to the custom of the day, while the congregation was outside praying. As he stood burning incense, an angel suddenly appeared, standing by him.

When Zacharias saw him there, he was startled and afraid, but his uneasiness was soon assuaged by the comforting words of the angel: “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”1

Zacharias wasn’t the only one who was to be startled by the sudden appearance of an angel! Six months later, the angel Gabriel visited Mary as well. “Rejoice, highly favored one,” he said, “the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”2

“Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus.’”3 This was a monumental announcement, considering Mary had not been with any man.

Then when Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, learned about her pregnancy, he planned to put her away secretly, to protect her reputation. But while he thought on these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, telling him not to hesitate to take Mary as his wife, “For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”4

On the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.”5 The angel told them not to be afraid, and that the Savior had been born in the city of David. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.

Of course, the greatest and most wonderful surprise appearance of all was the little babe Jesus wrapped snugly and lying in a manger, who changed the course of history—Emmanuel (God with us), King of kings, Lord of lords, Savior of the world.6

  1. Luke 1:13
  2. Luke 1:28
  3. Luke 1:29–31 CEV
  4. Matthew 1:20–21 NLT
  5. Luke 2:9 NLT
  6. See Luke 2:8–14.