Rev. Yme Woensdregt
One of the frustrating things about Advent and Christmas is that even though it’s a time when many of us want to focus on the spiritual part of the season, we get ever more wrapped up in the busy–ness of our lives. It’s hard to move beyond the mundane to prepare for the birth of Jesus.
And then an angel comes into our lives to help us focus once more on what’s really important in life.
Yes, I believe in angels. Angels are part of the traditional way of telling the story of Christ’s birth. They show up all over the place in the Christmas story. In Matthew’s story, an angel shows up in Joseph’s dream. In Luke’s story, angels are all over the place … one angel tells Mary she’s about to be pregnant; there is a whole choir of them filling the skies, singing God’s praises to the shepherds.
The Greek word which we translate as “angel” simply means messenger. Both Matthew and Luke use angels in their stories of Jesus’ birth as heralds of God’s good news. Often angels are portrayed as supernatural beings. That’s not unique to Christianity. Most of the world’s major religions give a role to such supernatural beings. I guess that makes them ecumenical and interfaith creatures.
Aside from Christianity, stories featuring angels are found in Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, in Zoroastrianism and Mormonism, in Islam and various mystical faiths.
Angels announce the intrusion of the divine into earthly life. They proclaim God’s intentions to human beings. In various scriptures, an angel in the story is a way of the writer saying, “Hey, pay attention! God is at work here!”
According to a study by Baylor University, half of all Americans say they believe in angels, saying that they are protected by guardian angels.
But what about the other half? Does all this talk of angel choruses and supernatural heralds at Christmastide make Jesus seem more like a character in a fairy tale than a human being who was like us and lived with us? What messengers do we hear today that announce the birth of the Prince of Peace in the world? Are angels rosy–cheeked cherubs with wings? I don’t think so. Messengers come in all kinds of different shapes and guises.
I confess: I believe angelic messengers have appeared to me from time to time. I also confess that when it happened, it was a rare and unexpected thing. I typically don’t see supernatural beings floating around in the sky bearing banners that read “Gloria” and singing “Hark.”
Instead, I’m learning to pay attention to the other messengers God sends my way: the words of my family and friends, the nudges in my soul, the work of peace and justice in the world. For me, the greatest angels I experience are the human beings who populate my everyday world, those who bear the message of Immanuel, “God with us,” in all that we do.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” It’s a wonderful and necessary reminder that we ought not take life — or ourselves — too seriously. We can relax into the joy and wonder of life.
Especially at this time of year, when we are so busy running around to get everything done, such an angelic nudging in our life can help relieve the constant pressure. May you also experience the sound of angels singing in your life, in the ordinary and extraordinary days of this time of year and throughout the year.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook