Do You Believe in Angels?

Ps 91, Luke 2:10-12

When Henza and I were in high school together, the pop group, ABBA, was all the rave.

One of their songs goes like this;

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream

Do you believe in angels?

Just as a disclaimer; I don’t. But I have encountered many in my life.

Let me explain.

If you grew up in a pre-scientific world where very little knowledge existed about physics or genetics or even something as basic as germs, then, to explain the world you resorted to the supernatural world of angels and sea monsters and a flat earth.

As 21 century believers it is our task to understand the intent of these ancient Bible stories. For this we need to apply the knowledge and discoveries of the past 2,000-plus years as a corrective lens. A literal interpretation of the story does it no justice.

A more reasonable interpretation of the angel-stories is to read into this the affirmation of God’s intent to reassure and comfort.

The beauty of the prose from the Psalms is indisputable. These are words of an artist expressing his interpretation of God:

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

We know, however, that this is not literally true. Every person who has suffered tragedy will confirm that this is not literally true because, where was God when they suffered their deep misfortune. So, we must understand the intent—not read the Bible in a way you read a cookbook.

So, no, I personally cannot believe in angels as beings fluttering around with wings, speaking to people in the middle of the night. Angels were metaphor—an attempt to explain the inexplicable in a creative way, by an ancient people.

Yet, as I also said, I have encountered and still encounter angels every day.

But these are angels—or flesh and blood messengers of God.

I cannot begin to recall the number of people who have been God’s messengers of mercy and love and comfort in my own life.

When you are surprised with open-heart surgery at age 46 the comfort of a dedicated nurse holding your hand as you regain consciousness and you realize that you are in deep trouble, is the presence of God in a human form. That nurse was an angel whom I will never forget.

The comfort I found in my wife’s hand rubbing my aching back after my open-heart surgery, was a healing comfort that filled me with a sense of a sacred presence. She became, in that moment, God’s angel bringing comfort.

This coming Sunday it will be 40 years ago that we said, “I do!” I still think she is an angel.

How can one not have an awareness of God’s angels at work when you think of the story of a humble, Armenian nun, stooped over the human detritus of Calcutta that others barely acknowledge as human, offering them dignity and hope, healing and acceptance.

These “angels” are not perfect people who flutter around with white wings like butterflies, but they are those who have acted in a Godly fashion when opportunity called upon them.

In that sense I can echo the words from Abba’s song—”I believe in angels…”

In fact, I believe that there have been ample times each one of you have been an angel interrupting the pain or hopelessness of another by offering them comfort or compassion or simply your presence, when they needed it most. Mostly, you may not even be aware of it.

In this time of Advent and Christmas we will hear the stories of angels. Listen carefully as to how the intent is to reassure people that God does not abandon us but engages us with HOPE when HOPE runs out.

Someone wrote that “the birth narrative [the Xmas story] says that God enters the world where the big messes remain unsolved.”[1]

That would mean that Advent is not a passive waiting time when we sit back and enjoy Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but it is action-time to step into the profound messes that need one of God’s living angels to be an instrument of HOPE.

Advent calls you and me to be active participants in this dream Jesus had for the world. Today he calls ordinary flawed people like you and me, to engage the world and help transform it into a softer, more forgiving, more loving, less selfish and less angry and less violent place.

Be of courage. After all, did God’s angels not declare;

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for in the city of David there was born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. ”

Amen.

 

PRAYER

As part of our prayer, let’s listen to this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thick-nut-hun). It is a recognition of the rhythms of our lives.

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Holy God, help us find our true place in the rhythm of your world.

[1] (From; Angels, Virgin Mothers, and the Power of Myth, https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/angels-virgin-mothers-and-the-power-of-myth-sermon-video/)