One forgivable misconception that Christians hold on so dearly is their presumed ownership of ‘angels’! Most of us Christians would like to think that angels are exclusively within the domain of Christianity and that it sounds sacrilegious to think otherwise.
This is quite understandable in view of the fact that angels are in more than just a few biblical stories.
We read about them both in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible and because these Holy Writings are exclusive to the Christian religion, it follows that ‘angels’ ought to be under the sole purview of Christianity.
While this may sound logical, such is not really the case. Angels are present not only in the Holy Bible of the Christian religion but are also in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Jewish religion. The Q’uran of the Islam religion also talks about it. Yes, angels are very much present in other world religions.
And just to extend the breadth of the angel phenomenon, the entertainment industry rakes a huge profit from it along with the rest of the business world that thrive in these financial advantages.
As a young boy, I’ve always been fascinated by angels. I remember wondering whether I’ll ever meet my ‘Guardian Angel’ and whether stories about winged creatures were real. Do you believe in angels? I still do!
I have to admit that I have never fully outgrown my fascination about angels. It has stayed with me all these years but is no longer about them having wings or shining radiance as pictured in many Sunday School materials. I think, I’ve outgrown this particular imagery.
As I matured in life, I became more convinced that there are dimensions in life that are deeper and more wonderful than I can possibly imagine. There are ‘visitations’ into our lives that bring us comfort and strength and these just seem to happen too often to be mere coincidence. Remember those stories about ‘butterflies’ that appear from nowhere shortly after a loved one’s passing away? Did you ever wonder what those meant? I’ve always wondered whether it was an angel sent to bring us comfort and assurance.
The Christmas Story is replete with this kind of visitation. In the story about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth bearing a son, the angel Gabriel visited her husband, Zechariah, announcing the naming of their son, John. In today’s gospel lesson we hear of another visitation. It’s the story about the angel Gabriel visiting a young woman, a virgin named Mary. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she ‘has found favor’ with God and that she will bear a son and she’s to name him Jesus.
In Matthew’s gospel, we learn of another angel visitation and this one was on Joseph when he found out that the one betrothed to him was already conceiving. On that cold night, while the shepherds were out in the field, an angel appeared to them. Another angel visitation took place when Joseph was warned of the impending wrath of Herod and for them to flee to Egypt.
In these and other angel visitation stories, we are not told how angels look like. However, we are told what they said. The very first word out of the mouth of angels each time they appear to people in the story is: “Don’t be afraid!”
In the biblical stories involving angels, you might notice that they come to people as they face frightening times in their lives and I believe they do in ours as well. Some of those frightening times in life include those when we just don’t know what foreseeable future would bring. For example, the doctor says your cancer is well advanced you’re time is running short. Just as you take pride in a job you thought was secure, you are given a lay off notice. Your married life begins to crumble. The child you have high hopes in makes a terrible mistake and continues doing the same mistakes. Your spouse dies. Members of family you care about are no longer interested in your wellbeing.
Amidst these and your own version of frightening times, angels come and say to you: “Fear not, the Lord is with you!” “Do not be afraid of the hard places in your lives. Do not be afraid of the times when you don’t know the way, of the times when you wonder if you’ll make it through the night, or the day, or the moment.”
Angels appear amidst the frightening times to ease our fears, to stir our hopes, and to point the way to the holy, to point the way to the living God. They meet us when we least expect them. Often they come to us at our lowest ebbs — those moments when we are most alone, most afraid and most insecure. They point to God in the here and now of life. They point to God in the unpleasantness and dullness of life.
Because of the angel, Elizabeth knew what to say when Mary showed up on her doorstep. Because of the angel, Mary feared not and gave her assent to be the God-bearer. Because of the angel, Joseph was guided into the right thing to do, and so he took Mary as his wife, and when the baby was born, he welcomed her child as his own.
Hence, when you look back over your life, you can think of times when you faced a difficult decision, a confusing situation, and were not sure what to do. I know that just as I have, so have you had the frightening times of your life. But there was that presence, that someone, that quiet voice – an inner voice – that whispered to us “Do not be afraid!” It was that same voice that led us to do what turned out to be the right thing.
Do you believe in angels? I still do!