“Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
During this time of year, we hear about angels everywhere: we sing about them in Christmas carols, we see beautiful, artistic renderings of them on tree toppers and window displays, and, of course, we read about them in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Several weeks ago, during the children’s sermon, Pastor Heidi explained to the children that the congregation would be “hanging the greens” and setting up the Nativity scene in the sanctuary after second service that day. When she asked the kids who some of their favorite characters in that scene were, they all answered with a resounding, “The angels!!” It seems the physical appearance of the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host in the story was so extraordinary that, at least in the minds of the kids, the angel was even more memorable than Baby Jesus himself. I can attest that, when our youngest grandkids get to play with our Little People Nativity scene, it is always the angel sitting on top of the stable roof, as it lights up and plays “Away in a Manger,” that they want to play with first! It made me think, what is it about angels that so captures the minds and imaginations of people of all ages? And what does the Bible have to say about these heavenly beings’ nature and purpose in all of God’s creation?
When our own children were little, they would sometimes go through periods when they were particularly fearful about something or someone, and it seemed that these fears would surface at bedtime. So whenever one of them would need something to soothe their hearts, I would sing “The Angels Song” to them:
"They’re all above me, below me, before me, they’re all around me;
My Father’s angels all protect me everywhere.
I could never stray so far that my Father would lose track of where I am;
Angels walking beside me, they can see me, they see ME!
They’re all above me, below me, before me, they’re all around me;
My Father’s angels all protect me; My Father’s angels all protect me;
My Father’s angels all protect me everywhere.”
While artists down through the ages have had a great impact on how we envision angels – not to mention the influence Hollywood has had on our perception of these angelic beings – people who are not familiar with the biblical record may be surprised that the Bible describes angels nothing at all like they are typically depicted. Most angels in the Bible have the appearance and form of a man, but we know from the New Testament teachings that angels are neither male nor female, but are spirit. Others have multiple faces that appear like a man from one angle, and a lion, ox, or eagle from another angle. Some are bright, shining, and fiery, while others look like ordinary humans. Some angels are invisible, yet their presence is felt, and their voice is heard. Some are larger than life and appear powerful. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of accounts of the visitation of angels in the lives of ordinary people and often those visited are described as “being terrified” at their appearance. In Luke’s gospel account of the shepherds hearing about the birth of Jesus, we read, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” In fact, in the Old Testament, the expression “the Angel of the Lord,” is understood by many biblical scholars to refer to one of many “Christophanies;” that is, pre-incarnate Christ appearances. I wonder if the fact that the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid,” was due to a fearsome image by which the angel revealed him/herself, or if it was “the glory of the Lord” shining around them that caused the shepherds to fear they would die in the presence of the Lord, as the Old Testament taught that no one could see God in His glory and live.
Yet, the most pervasive experience of those with whom I’ve spoken and who attest to the experience of angels in their own lives is one of peace and comfort, help and encouragement. As an elder called to sit with those who are suffering physically or emotionally, I have heard numerous accounts from these loved ones who share their stories with me. I have even witnessed what I believe could be the presence and the ministry of angels to those who are dying and whom the Lord has sent as His messenger or as an escort; or, perhaps, it is Christ Himself they see, standing ready to receive them into His arms, the joy of which shines from their faces. And while the letter to the Colossians warns against the worship of angels, which causes the “unspiritual mind to get puffed up and disconnected from Christ, the Head,” and the entire first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews is concerned with establishing the primacy of Jesus Christ over the angels, scripture also tells us that the “little ones’ angels constantly behold the face of God.” I know that Our Father, in His mercy and love, delights to look upon us and hear our prayers for His help, healing, and provision, as we acknowledge our dependence on Him for everything in life. And I believe it is His direct intervention in our daily life that accounts for the marvelous stories that I have either heard about second-hand, listened to first-hand, or even experienced personally in my own life. During this Christmas season, let us never forget that the marvelous story the angels proclaimed that night indeed signaled the Father’s direct intervention into the darkness of our world as He sent His only Son Jesus to take on mortal flesh to suffer and die and to redeem us all. Let us bless the Lord for His angels, whom “He commands concerning us, to guard us in all of our ways,” for these are “His mighty ones who hearken to the voice of His commands.” This is most certainly true.
Susie Pike, elder
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