Have you ever seen an angel? I will confess that I have … many different times, and many different angels. They all have their own unique look, their own way of being, their own particular way of coming into my life.
The word “angel” comes from the Greek word for “messenger”. Greek is the original language of the New Testament in our Bibles, and by thinking of the word in this way, I have had lots of messengers show up in my life, precisely at the times I needed it most.
Angels help me focus on what’s really important in life. At this time of year, the most important thing is not all the busy–ness of shopping and baking and preparing. The most important thing is to focus on the heart of what this season is all about. It’s exactly at those times when I get busiest that an angel appears to to help me focus again on the heart of this time.
Angels are traditional parts of the Christmas story. They show up all over the place. In Matthew’s story, an angel shows up in a dream to Joseph. In Luke’s story, angels are found everywhere. Gabriel announces her pregnancy to Mary. A whole choir of angels fills the night sky, scaring the shepherds silly as they announce the birth of the baby Jesus, and then they fill the skies singing God’s praises. In both of these gospels, angels are heralds of God’s good news.
Angels are often portrayed as a supernatural being. As such, they have a role in most of the world’s major religions. (I guess that makes them ecumenical and interfaith creatures.)
You can find angel stories in the Jewish scriptures (our Old Testament). You will also find them in Buddhism and Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Mormonism, in Islam and various mystical faiths.
In every case, angels announce that the divine is about to break 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 of the other half? Does all this talk of angel choruses and supernatural heralds at Christmastide make Jesus seem more a character from a fairy tale than a human being like us who lived with us? To put the question more bluntly, are there still any angels around? Are there any messengers who announce God’s intentions for the world?
If you’re looking for rosy–cheeked cherubs with wings, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. These kinds of messengers come in all kinds of different shapes and guises.
And that’s exactly how angels have shown up in my life from time to time. Each time an angel confronted me, 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.”
I’m learning to pay attention to all of these messengers God is sending my way: the words of my family and friends, the nudges of my soul, the work of peace and justice in the world, the questions of those who seek to delve more deeply into things, in pieces of music and works of art. 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.
Some people may call them personal heroes. I have some of those too, but some of my heroes go beyond just an example for me to imitate. Some of them bear a word of good news and healing for my life.
Let me give you an example. Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In her strong and tireless advocacy of human rights, she speaks a word to our world that every single person is a child of God. After she had been shot, she could have given up. She didn’t. She used her experience to become an angel, a messenger, speaking words of hope and life into our world.
May you also experience the presence of angels in your life, this season and throughout the year. May you feel them nudging in your life, in the midst of your ordinary schedules, in ordinary and extraordinary days all year long.
And … when you do feel the nudging, listen for the whispers. Your life might just take a turn towards newness and abundance.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook