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Through the Eyes of an Angel
Luke 1:13,26; Matthew 2:13; Luke 2:9, Matthew 4: 1-2, 8-11; Luke 22: 29-34
There must be always remaining in every one's life some place for the singing of angels Life is saved by the singing of angels.
Sarah MacLachlan's song, and Star Bradbury's choreography touch the core of what we hope in our heart of hearts to be true, that in our hardest moments we may find comfort in the arms of an angel.
During Advent, Sandy and I have spoken to you as Magi, prophet, and shepherd. Today I speak to you as one of the bible's angels. We angels are messengers of God. God sends us when God seems too far away to reach or even pray to. Of course God is never really far. It is you who wander and drift. To help you understand how we angels find and comfort you, I'm going to tell you how I arrived during three times in Jesus' life. From this I'll come back to how I visit you today.
As a general principle, we angels announce what you of the world don't expect. I gave Mary the message that she would have a child, and this child would be known as the chosen one of God. Mary was not at all sure about this, Elizabeth her older cousin told Mary that angels were quite active in these pregnancies. In fact, an angel had visited her husband Zechariah and her just a few months earlier.
I appeared to Joseph, in a dream. I encouraged him to stay with Mary, even though he didn't seem to have a role in this pregnancy. I also warned Joseph, after the baby was born, to run and hide in Egypt until King Herod died, because Herod was trying to kill babies whom he feared would threaten his power. Jesus was born in a tough time for his parents. In this birth, I was, as you can see, one busy angel.
Birth was my first visit to Jesus and continues to be one of those times that we angels are especially present. At birth, heaven and earth are so close as to almost touch. It wasn't just for Jesus' birth that we appeared. We're always there, flapping our wings, in the announcement of a child's birth. Often those closest - the mother and the father, the grandparents - see us and hear us. The fact that our presence was so clearly remembered by those who wrote of Jesus' birth gives us a chance to show ourselves to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear every year at Christmas.
Christmas makes quite a big deal of birth and angels. But what of you who have no babies at Christmas? What of you men and women who because of various circumstances cannot have children? What of you whose children are grown and gone and for an infinite number of reasons can no longer be part of your Christmas?
First remember that the Bible's understanding of fertility and reproduction reflects the understanding and culture of its day, not our own. Birth stories are symbols, just one metaphor of the renewal of life. When Christmas gets too wrapped up in babies, we angels appear to unveil God's presence in your midst in experiences other than physical birth. I, as an angel, want you to hear this above all other messages. The promise of life transformed belongs to each of you whether or not have children.
So when you think of angels at Christmas, think of birth as moments when life explodes with new possibilities. Think of peak moments, new discoveries of love and happiness. This is one way heaven brushes earth, and we angels are right in there singing.
My second visit to Jesus came at the very beginning of his adult ministry. He had just been baptized in the River Jordan by his second cousin, John.
This baptism was one of those peak moments, a transformation. Jesus went down into that water, and when he came up he heard God saying, "This is my beloved child, in whom I am pleased." Imagine the power of that. The world back then was full of people who had grand visions of God. Like today they often became fanatics, or even went crazy. They never focused and directed the power that had been revealed to them.
One element that separated Jesus from others was that he went to the wilderness alone to figure out what had just happened to him. There he fasted and prayed for forty days.
Think of the longest that you have ever gone without a meal. Some of you fast for twenty-four hours the week before Thanksgiving. Can you imagine living forty days without food or even any other people? Jesus did that. By the end of that time he was seeing not only God but demons as well. He was near death. In that condition, Matthew says simply that angels came and ministered to him. We angels arrive at times like that, in the midst of life's passages and transitions.
Mary the mother of Jesus once managed to make herself visible to the children in the village of Medjugorje. Mary by the way manages making people see her better than any of the rest of us, and she won't tell us how she does it. Anyhow, Mary told the children, "It is very important to pray for others, because when you pray for someone, an angel goes and sits on the shoulder of that person."
I like that. When you're praying for someone, especially someone who is unable or unwilling to pray for him or herself, think of an angel on his or her shoulder. When you're struggling yourself and someone is praying for you, think of an angel on your shoulder.
Neither God nor I sends hard times, but in those rough times you often discover life's deepest meaning. When you look back at the greatest struggles of your life and wonder how you ever got through them, look a little harder, and you'll see an angel, like a shadow in an old photograph, standing by your side.
Third, we are present again when sorrow and death loom. Move away from the Christmas season. Thirty-three years later, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives to pray. Jerusalem then as now was a political tinderbox. Jesus sensed that he was becoming the scapegoat. He could hear the soldiers coming up the path. He feared that he might die. He prayed for God's help. Luke says that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground as he prayed, and an angel came and strengthened him. That was me. I held him in my arms that he might find some comfort there. He prayed some more and rose to face his tormentors. I never left him.
I come to you as I came to Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I announce your birth. Touch that little dent on your upper lip. I touch you right there when you are born and say, "Hush, don't tell all that you know of heaven."
Think back to the Angel song of Star's dance. There's always some reason to feel not good enough/ And it's hard at the end of the day. I promise that you will find comfort here in my arms. I sit on your shoulder when others pray for you. I come to you when you need me, especially when you can't even find the strength to pray. Sometimes I am one you have loved who has died. Sometimes I am simply a way that God, however you know the holy, becomes personal. But either way I will be with you when you make your passage from life to death, and this is my greatest promise.
In the meantime, this is the shining season for my angel friends and me. We're everywhere in these Advent days and nights, in dreams, candles, and treetop ornaments. Open your hearts, and listen as I sing,
To you beneath life's crushing load whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow,
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road and hear us angels sing!
In your prayer ask God for a picture of your angel, and wait to catch a glimpse of this messenger of God in your life.
Ask for a word from your angel, and listen to what comes to you.
Then simply give thanks for your angel, that you may stay close to each other.
Now pray for those in need, as the vision of Mary suggests, seeing each person you pray for with an angel sitting on their shoulder.
Pray for Christmas coming, that you may be aware in this special season of the singing of angels.
Let the promise and power of angels open you to hope for mountains of injustice brought down, valleys of depression filled. Pray that you may see a path to a better day, in your soul, and in the world. Believe that your prayers will happen.