Monday, September 30, 2013

The Message the Angels Bring

I confess a selfish reason for celebrating Michael and all angels which is that it is my husband's "saint's day." And the name Michael literally means, "who is like God" but I urged people not to empower him. Yesterday, with our kids we looked at two of the stained glass windows in our church that depict angels- on each one the angels have orange wings. Not sure why. But any way, the first is an angel appearing to Abraham as he is about to offer Isaac, bringing important news to stop! The second is the angel Gabriel bringing important but joyful news to Mary- you will have a son! One of our kids is a girl named Gabriella who delights in the fact her name is the girl version of Gabriel!

It’s easy to look at today’s readings or others and focus on what we do or do not know about angels- who are these messengers?  What do they look like? We talked about how angels can bring good news, and tell things that are important and they protect us. And then we sang “Angels Watchin’ Over Me.” But of course there is more to all this because we are not so sure what to make of angels. And for many of us, we think about maybe the ones we hang on the Christmas tree where we imagine everything in the world is clean and pure and festive.

If art over time is a guide to popular thought, we like our angels to be pure looking girls, chubby blonde headed babies with miniature wings, or occasionally even sensual women. Smiling, or at least looking like they know a secret. We claim these images, perhaps even unknowingly as a way of escaping or smoothing over the world around us. But that’s not at all what we hear in the Bible. Angels sometimes look like nothing more than a curious visitor, or a fellow traveler. Other times, like a man, with dazzling bright light, like lightning, maybe with wings, as many as 6 wings, and as many as four heads, like animals and eyes all over, with a face like the sun. Kind of hard to hang that on a Christmas tree. Defender angels who look or sound more like something out of Lord of the Rings, or a fantasy movie, engaged in a kind of cosmic showdown that some are convinced the end of times will look like. And a tale of there no longer being any place for Satan in heaven- so he came to earth. How much is literal and how much is imagery? What to do with these creatures mentioned 600 times in the Bible?

Angels bring messages about something important. Most have no names. But when they do, there is usually a reason about big things. The two names we do know are Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel appears when births are being announced that will change the world-

the births of John the Baptist who prepared the way and Jesus, whose name means-  “he saves.” And Michael comes armed with the power of God to conquer evil. Their appearances are about proclaiming what we hear in verse 10 of Revelation- A loud voice proclaiming- NOW have come salvation and power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of the Messiah. And no matter how adorable our popular imagery of angels can be- honestly, that passage is what I really want to know.

We may not know what to make of all of the imagery, but we know what it feels like when evil has knocked on our door, or life is full of chaos. And while we do not know where angels are visible, somehow when they are seen, the reaction is one of recognizing God’s power, and standing in awe. Whether you have ever had such an experience or not, stories of those who have reveal God in our world.

A few years ago I had my closest encounter with angels, but I didn’t actually see anything. I was working at the hospital and paged to visit a patient with end stage liver disease. When I walked into the room there was a man connected to lots of medical equipment, looking exhausted from his struggles, and a frantic wife unable to rest from the swirl of information they’d been given about just how serious things were. She was terrified, and he was resigned. And they were caught in chaos. He was preparing to die, and hoping to escape. She was looking for a miracle- she wanted a cure. But they couldn’t undo the struggle. It had started long ago, in a cloud of addictions, shame and contempt. Being deceived by the devil and all those empty promises. And now they knew. She urgently demanded- you have to pray for him to beat this! For him to be healed, she meant cured. While he kept saying, “no babe, it’s too late for that.” But it was like his lifestyle was standing there, accusing him, day and night, like we hear of in Revelation, with each beep of the machines. Pray for us.

In my mind at that moment, were so many thoughts- anger that evil had destroyed a life. And when I think about how there was no room for the devil and evil in heaven, that they fell to earth,  I could literally imagine seeing it all falling in a blaze of flames, but the smoke seeping into so many lives, overtaking and convincing people to cling to things that would destroy them. Like this guy.

And right about then I would’ve liked to do some cosmic butt-kicking with Michael the archangel. And then high five with the disciples that we’d conquered! But I was left feeling profound sadness, and frankly, helplessness. Because while I believe for God all things are possible. I knew I could not stand there and say “God will fix you.” I knew time seemed short.

And there we were. And I began to pray with them and to this day I do not remember the words. I’ve tried, but all I remember was saying “Almighty God” and closing my eyes as tight as I ever had ‘til I got to “Amen.” But at the end, as I opened my eyes, the woman was positively transformed. She had a glow in her eyes, and stood there in a state of wonder. And she kept saying, “Did you see that?...Did you see?” Followed finally by- “when you were praying, they came! The angels came and were in this room. It’s gonna be OK. It will be alright. We can do this.” She didn’t say he would be cured, but that she knew they could walk this road.

And I was so astounded, I never even asked what exactly she saw. Because what mattered was not the messenger but the message- that you are known to God and chaos has an end. Angels act in Scripture and in God’s world to bring this message. The woman in that hospital room moved from wanting a cure here, to being convinced that she now understood how to walk in the days to come with God. The angels had brought a message.

And just like Jesus told the disciples, it’s not so much about the messenger as the message. That power and salvation and kingdom are now.

So often we can lose sight of God’s power, and salvation and kingdom. And be deceived. Into believing on our own power, or deceived into believing we are alone in our struggles. Or that what swirls around is too great to be conquered. But Martin Luther writes that “we as Christians should have sure knowledge that (God’s angels) are with us, not only one or two, but a large number.” After all, it was a multitude of the heavenly host with the shepherds that dark night. And he says “ … if God did not in this way check the fury of Satan, we could not live for one moment.” But God does.

NOW have come salvation and power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah. This is the message that helps us worship and praise, and discern God’s will. This is what guides, protects, delivers, encourages, and answers.

The message that chaos has an end in Jesus Christ. All around us may swirl accusers, or adversaries. Those who do not cling to life. Times where evil has come, but the time is short. But chaos has an end. And we are not alone.

Angels work mysteriously to surround us, and to remind us to rejoice that there is such a message for us because we are known to God. And we are assured salvation.

And that is the message we like the early disciples are given to carry- to proclaim God’s good news- in preaching and teaching, baptizing and healing, and casting out evil. In the name of the one who sent us. With a powerful love that saves and brings peace because NOW have come the salvation and power, the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. Jesus is that message.
May God surround us with the power of all the heavenly forces guiding us to believe it and proclaim it.  AMEN

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