Thursday, December 01, 2005

Advent 1: Angel Sermon, Nov. 27

Angels are perhaps the most visible part of our religion in American culture. Everywhere you turn you see angels: Books on angels, tv shows about angels. When I think of angels, I always think about War Eagle and craft fairs, because my mom always brought home an angel for her collection from craft fairs. My mother actually has a Christmas tree solely devoted to her angel ornament collection. You no doubt might think of Cary Grant as Dudley the angel in the “Bishop’s Wife” or Henry Travers as Clarence, the angel earning his wings in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” At a religion bookstore I worked at in West Hollywood, we had a whole section on angels. So, what is it about these emissaries of God that appeals so strongly to our culture? What does the Bible really say about angels?
One thing that is not usually shown by our culture’s representation of Angels is the fact that they are by most accounts fairly terrifying. The first words out of an angels mouth in the Bible is usually, “Do not be afraid.” There are many accounts of angels in the Bible, but one that perhaps expresses best the otherworldly nature of these beings is Ezekial 1. Here is a detailed account of Ezekial’s vision of what is called a “cherub” and it is not quite as benign looking as a little fat baby with wings and a harp.
What angels are is always played down by the Biblical texts. The most important thing about them is the message they bring. Angels are shown by scripture to be the emissaries of God. Bruggemann describes the distinction as being like political representatives of the Almighty power in heaven who come to earth bearing the Divine’s message. IN fact, the word angel simply means messenger in Greek.
Angels offer encouragement, hope, assistance. Sometimes, what they bring is met by humans in struggle—As is the case with Jacob wrestling with an Angel on a riverbank. Our scripture this morning tells us that Mary is at first troubled by what the angel Gabrielle has to say to her.
Take the angel on the front cover of your bulletin. This is a picture of Gabrielle, and look what the angel is carrying. Is Gabrielle coming to the hanging of the greens service here at the Methodist Church? The branch in Gabrielle’s hand is a reference to Isaiah 11, where the great prophet tells of the coming of a man who will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
The branch the angel is carrying is the “branch that will grow out of the root of Jesse,” which is another way of saying “Messiah.” The message that Gabrielle brought to Mary was that she would bear the Messiah. Though Mary does not wrestle with the angel who brought her word of the son she would bear, the news does create some strife and hardship for her life and for Joseph’s life.
The message is clear to us today as well. Christ is born among us! Are we waiting on a dramatic divine encounter in the middle of the night to hear the news of Christ’s presence, or can we be content with the subtle miracles that tell of Christ’s birth in our lives? Hebrews 13:1-2 tells us that simply by showing hospitality to strangers, some have entertained angels unawares. If we live the life of hospitality in our hearts, if we let the hope of this Christ child born to Mary surround us and infuse us, we too will live among angels and be graced by their presence. There is a song by an artist named Ben Harper called “Waiting on an angel.” In it, he references this saying from Hebrews, and declares that he’s waiting on an angel—one to carry him home. Are we preparing our heart for the season of waiting with joyful anticipation? Waiting plus joyfulness = hope. The message carried by the angels is quite often not an answer to a question, but rather the instilling of hope. Mary was asked to bear a son for nine months for the sake of world. We are asked to bear our patience and remain hopeful.


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