Christmas Eve Meditation
It goes without saying that the characters of a story are what make a story interesting. Think about the characters in the familiar story A Christmas Carol, a story we love to read and watch this time of year. What child or adult hasn’t been captivated by Ebenezer Scrooge’s grumbling, bah-humbug nature? Who hasn’t wanted to feel within their own heart that same Christmas spirit as Tiny Tim when he spoke those final words, “God bless us, every one!” Story characters have a way of tapping into our imaginations—our deepest longings and desires, our fears and fantasies. Think about characters like Tom Sawyer in Huck Finn or Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings; Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind or Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Who in recent years hasn’t wanted to be some part of Harry Potter—adults and children alike? Some characters don’t even have to speak a word in order to capture our imaginations or express what we feel and long for. Take for instance that great white whale himself—Moby Dick. With no dialogue and very little screen time in the movie version, his presence creates a cast of unforgettable characters across a canvas as deep and wide as the sea, and has kept their quest alive in our dreams across the generations.
So it is with the angels in the Christmas story. They are the characters in the story that capture our imagination. History has depicted them in many different forms. They span the spectrum from small, cubby, “other worldly” creatures floating around with wings, to images of men who wield swords and other protective armor guarding those of us who inhabit the earth. The two most famous angels are Michael, the archangel, and Gabriel, the angel who announces to Mary that she will give birth to Emmanuel—which means God with us. In the part of the Christmas story that Libby has told our children this evening, the angel is the one who offers to the shepherds a word of assurance in the midst of what must have felt like some scary events. It is the angels’ part that we know by heart, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah.” Who hasn’t been moved by the sight of a child dressed in an oversized bathrobe sporting a pair of glitter-dusted wings confidently announcing, “I bring you good news of great joy…for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah?”
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. In the gospel of Luke, angels appear to announce the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. They appear not only to the shepherds who are keeping watch in their fields, but much later in the biblical story, they also appear to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to give him comfort. In Matthew, it is an angel that speaks at the empty tomb following the resurrection of Jesus, and who rolls back the stone for the women at the tomb. For those of you who like biblical trivia, angels are mentioned at least 108 times in the Hebrew scripture and 165 times in the New Testament.
I am not a scholar of angelology—that is the official title for one who studies angels—but I tend to think of angels as semi-divine beings representing both the divine nature of God and the divine nature of humanity. For me, angels are known–they are the people whom I have loved who now occupy that “other world.” It may sound silly or odd, but there are days when I call upon my angels to give me strength, to see me through tough days, to calm my fears, and to protect me when I feel unsafe. My other-world angels give me comfort when I need reassuring. Maybe you have such angels. But in my understanding, angels don’t just occupy the other world. They are here on this earth, too. They are the people who offer comfort to those who are hurting, who give a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty, and who serve a hot meal to those who are homeless. They are the caring people who went to stores in this year of unusual economic hardship for so many and paid off lay-a-ways so those who have less might have more this Christmas. They are those individuals who brought gifts to this church for families in need. I have met the angels who, this season, reached out their hands and hearts in generosity to comfort the orphan and the widow.
As best I can tell, angels are those who make real the message that God is with us. They are bridges between the human and the divine. They are loved ones who have passed on from this life, but who remain with us in our hearts and souls. They are the people here on earth who inspire us through their willingness and openness to reflect the divine-God with us. They are the characters in real life who make this world a foreshadowing of the kingdom we all seek. They are the places within us that hold that potential, to be messengers of God’s hope, God’s love, and God’s peace and joy.
This night it is fitting to pay tribute to the angels—those characters who make the Christmas story just a bit more interesting. This night it seems appropriate to ask: Who are your angels? And whose angel are you?