ANGELS – Week 1

No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him.
Isaiah 64:4

My Dear Friends in Christ,

I am so very excited, more so this year than any in the recent past. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, or the challenges we’ve faced as a nation. Perhaps it’s because I have been working on a number of things and they are starting to fall into place or because I’m in regular contact with my siblings and we discuss our memories often surrounding holidays (and food, of course!). Whatever the case, I am so excited that the Christmas and Advent seasons are upon us. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I am so excited to drive down Main Street when it’s dark and see the Christmas lights twinkling. I set up my Nativity and put up my Christmas Tree (please forgive me, Riesett family, but it’s artificial. The Riesetts are members here and they own Christmas Tree Farms – a great place to get your Christmas tree by the way!). I love the music, the decorations, the Hallmark movies, even the Christmas commercials (and, of course, the food!). I love it ALL, and the older I get the more I look forward to it. There is a focus on generosity, and despite the busy-ness of the year, people are kinder to one another! And this year, I am especially excited to see a growing number of angels. At Christmastime angels are everywhere.

At this time of year, angels sometimes seem more popular than Jesus or even God. Almost all religions profess belief in angels and from the sacred to the secular, from the sublime to the ridiculous, they can come across as being all things to all people. Cute and cuddly, majestic and graceful, impish and playful. Mysterious and new age-y.  For us, Angels play a key role in the story of the Bible. In the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation there are more than three hundred direct references to angels and many of them take place in the Christmas story. The Christmas story is filled with angels, thousands of them. And the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are only some of the places that angels appear in salvation history as recorded in the Bible.

Despite the consistent presence of angels in the Christmas story and notwithstanding their pervasive presence in popular culture or maybe more accurately because of their presence in popular cultures, there are many misconceptions about angels. So, over the next few weeks we are going to get to know angels a little bit better and why their existence matters to us. Angels are created beings, just like human beings. God chose at a certain point to create angels and now they exist forever. Angels are created beings like human beings, but they’re not human beings. They’re not people, nor are they people who have died. You don’t die and become an angel. These are two different orders of being. Angels are not people, but they are persons, which is to say, they’re individuals: each angel enjoys a distinct personhood, with an individual intellect and free will. They are also spirits, pure spirits, which means they don’t have bodies. As human beings we are united body and soul. Your body is part of what makes you, you. Angels are spirits, but they can put on a body; they can take on physical attributes, as we see in Scripture, in order to fulfill some mission or task, but in their essence, they are pure spirits.

Now, many of you might be thinking, “Why is he focusing on angels? With all that’s going on in our world, why talk about angels? I understand that reaction and the instinct to overlook, even ignore what many think of as fantasy. But let me give you a hint of what is to come: God intervenes in our world, in our lives, by sending angels. God sends angels in dark times, to people who are confused or afraid, to those who are asking the question, “What are we going to do now?”, to those who are unclear about what God is asking. As we’ll see, angels do a great deal and to dive deeper into that question we’re going to look at our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah is often held as the greatest of the prophets, because, as many argue, he more than any of the others, pointed to the coming of the Christ. The Church has long read from the prophet Isaiah at Advent and Christmas and Isaiah is another reason that I love this time of year so much. Isaiah writes at a stormy time when the nation of Judah was under attack and in very bad shape. Threatened with destruction by a very powerful foreign enemy, their situation seemed dark and utterly hopeless. Where was God and how could God let all of this happen to them? Could God have abandoned them? Does any of that sound familiar?

So, Isaiah cries out to God on behalf of Israel: Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Notice, that even as Isaiah speaks on behalf of the people, even as he cries out from the empty heart that is missing God, Isaiah knows that it’s Israel’s wandering from God’s ways that have led to this difficult situation. Isaiah realizes their predicament is self-imposed; they have no one to blame but themselves. They had repeatedly and continually turned from God and are now experiencing the consequences of their actions.  And while not quite blaming God, Isaiah sure is wondering why God let it happen.

Ever been there? You get in a bad situation, you have a mess on your hands and in your heart, you know it is your fault, you have no one to blame but yourself, but at the same time you are asking God, “Why did you let me do that?” That’s what Isaiah is doing, but notice he doesn’t stop there. Eventually, Isaiah moves past the misplaced blame and asks for help: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for. You can hear the desperation and the longing, hear it coming deep from his soul, the heartfelt prayer of one who has nowhere else to go. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself.  I know I have and in some pretty serious moments.

Isaiah moves beyond the desperation by begging God to get involved and intervene in a big way. Otherwise the situation is hopeless and there is no way forward. Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation today. Your marriage, your finances, your dating relationship, your job, your health or some other major area of your life is hopeless and you feel helpless, so helpless, that you’re actually willing to do the unthinkable and turn to God and ask for help. Anyway, here’s the point: It is the situations that seem hopeless to us where God loves to get involved. And, often he does it by sending angels. To the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had lost hope in ever having a child, God sent an angel. To Daniel who had lost hope that his service was worth anything. To Israel a nation that had lost hope of having a savior and a future, God sent an angel. To Joseph who had lost all hope, felt betrayed by Mary, his future wife who had been unfaithful, God sent an angel. To shepherds who had the lowliest of jobs, outcasts so down and dirty they weren’t even allowed to worship at the Temple, God sent an angel.

And it’s true, they were all afraid. You would be too. While angels often appear fierce and formidable, what we fear most is the distance between God’s ways and ours. Angels, when encountered, reveal the vast difference, the great divide between God’s ways and ours. Even a glimpse of this gaping chasm is frightening. But the angels also bring comfort. The God who created these fierce and formidable creatures, the God who leads these hosts of angels, this God goes before us and commands these angels to protect us and watch over us.

Angels, whether we believe in them or not, are reminders to us that God never leaves us alone or unaided. God didn’t create the world and set it on auto-pilot; didn’t set up some sterile, unconnected system and then go play golf. No. God constantly intervenes in our world, constantly invades our hearts and our lives with help and grace constantly. And angels are often the delivery system.

That’s the biggest reason for us to learn about angels. Angels are God’s creations. When we discover the truth about angels, they’ll ultimately point and lead to God. They’ll help us deepen our relationship with and see God’s power in our life. Our gospel reading brings home the basic Advent message: Be watchful! Be alert! Here in this passage Jesus is reminding us to be prepared, to seek and to search for God’s gentle power, to see how God comes in ways unanticipated, unrecognized, even unknown. When we are watchful and alert, we can recognize how God is at work and help God to serve others. That, of course, is exactly what didn’t happen at that first Christmas. Except for those unlikely few, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, nearly everyone missed out on what God was doing.

Over the next few weeks of our Advent series, we’re proposing getting to know angels better, as a way of getting to know God better, recognize better what God is doing this Christmas and throughout our lives, especially in this year unlike any other. It’s all about being watchful and being alert. As we kick off this series, I want to challenge you.  If you’re new to us, perhaps watching for the first time or returned after a long time, I challenge you simply to come back and learn more about angels.  Learn what angels reveal to us about God, especially in dark times, what angels can mean in our desire to navigate these times and grow, even thrive, as disciples of Jesus Christ. If you’re a regular, invite a friend or family member, who needs some help from God, perhaps someone you know who doesn’t have a church community to be a part of this series and to join us on-line on Christmas Eve. For many, this is a fascinating subject and you may be surprised by friends or family members or co-workers who will give this series a shot because of your invitation and their interest in angels.

Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.  You can’t see them most of the time, and maybe wouldn’t even want to, but you can definitely use them.

Peace,

 

 

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