Tag Archives: angels

Angels

September 29th is the feast of Michael and all Angels – a day to look into things beyond our experience and often understanding. That in itself is no bad thing! The idea that we know it all, or even all that matters (to us), is dangerous as well as arrogant.

The Bible does not tell us a great deal about angels. Michael appears in Daniel, Jude and Revelation as warrior. Gabriel, perhaps better known from the Christmas story, is also in Daniel. (The Apocrypha adds Raphael, with a major part in the book of Tobit, and Uriel in 2 Esdras). There are other un-named angels in the gospel story, visiting the shepherds near Bethlehem, and with Jesus in the wilderness and later in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus mentions them many times – but never to say much directly about them. He assumes their presence in Heaven.

Perhaps that is what we need to know. Angels are largely beyond our experience and understanding. They remind us that there is a great deal we do not even begin to understand. But God is in charge, God the One, who is also Father, Son and Spirit.

That brings us to the letter to Hebrews, and the reading for Michael and all Angels – Hebrews 1:5-14. Hebrews is written to a community tempted to leave their new Christian faith and default to their Jewish roots. The comment on angels in chapter 1 speaks of them as “ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”. It insists, with Old Testament quotations, that even these glorious creatures are far inferior to Jesus, who alone holds the greatest power.

Does that leave us humbled, by what we do not know? Does it perhaps remind us of the greatness of God’s Son, who exceeds in importance spiritual powers not subject to our limitations? Are we encouraged by the thought of forces beyond our vision fighting evil ? Or perhaps we simply wonder if this might be the beginning of an answer to the question, “What if we are not the only form of intelligence in the Universe?”. We can be thankful for Michael and all Angels, while we still admit the very limited understanding we have of angels and their doings.

Try it out

Why do we start this story after the angels have left? (Luke 2:15-21).  It might seem we are missing the point, but perhaps there is a point to make this way, too.

For the shepherds, it was one thing to be told; quite another to go and see for themselves. There’s effort and risk involved, but it makes the whole experience their own. The walk into Bethlehem may have been less fun than the angel choir, but doing it made it part of their own experience, not just an “entertainment”, however heavenly.

The shepherds prove what was said – they find a baby in a manger, and are able to tell what has happened to them, before they go home “singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them” verse 20

For Joseph and Mary, the shepherds visit may have been a shock, but their story provided confirmation that God was at work. We might wonder how they could forget, but it had been a long time since the angel’s appearance to Mary, and Joseph’s dream. We all need reassurance, and this is a confirmation they share, to make them more sure – and ready for the next difficulty.

So, if the end of the story, the shepherds visit to the Bethlehem babe, was important for them and for Joseph and Mary, what about us? We continue the celebration of Christmas, while many have finished with it for another year. Like the shepherds, we need not only to hear about it, but to see it, and make it our own. It needs trying out, as well as hearing.  When we have made sense of it, we then need to share it as well, passing it on, whatever reception it gets. (Nobody recorded the impact of the shepherds on Bethlehem.  I like to think they may have made quite a stir!).

We may worship with many people vaguely aware of God, but with no idea that he might be involved in their lives. That was the temptation for Joseph and Mary; but they were reminded of how God was using them, and it strengthened and prepared them for the next steps.

It’s no use just sitting back and enjoying it – even if “it” is a choir of angels. We have to take action on what we are told, and when we have found out for ourselves, we need to share that, and to build on our experience of God at work, so that we know we have a place in his work, and are ready to take on the next challenge.