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Symbols of the Season: Angels
Luke 2:13-14


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service I—December 2, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are angels all around us this time of year.  At the Women’s Christmas Dinner last night, about half of the ornaments in the ornament exchange were angels.  Many homes are decorated with angels inside and out.  You see angels on everything, from greeting cards, to plates and napkins, and edible angel-shaped cookies.  It is very appropriate that angels are such a prominent symbol of the season, because in the Bible angels have a very prominent role in the events of Advent and Christmas. 

The word angel means “messenger,” and that’s the part angels play in the Advent and Christmas story.  It begins with an angel announcing the birth of John the Baptist, who was the cousin and forerunner of Christ.  “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. . .  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: ‘Fear not, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. . .  And he will go on before the Lord . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

The first thing we learn about angels is that they when they make themselves openly visible it seems they have an awe-inspiring, fearful appearance.  Because, everyone in the Bible who sees an angel is described as “gripped with fear” like Zechariah, and whenever an angel makes a visible appearance the first words out of his mouth are always, “Fear not.”

The most widespread image of angels in our culture is based more on the Gospel According to St. Hallmark rather than the Scriptures—cute chubby cherubs.  That is a far cry from the frightfully impressive angelic creatures that Zechariah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Apostle John saw, a sight that left them awestruck with holy fear, and caused them to fall down on their faces in reverence.

In contrast to cute chubby cherubs, Jesus tells us it is the angels who will actually carry out the final judgment at the Last Day: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  That is what we all deserve because of our sin and evil.  Each one of us deserves eternal damnation, to be cast by the angels of God into fiery furnace of hell.

But God’s angels are not only instruments of judgment, they are also messengers of the Good News of salvation:

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin  . . name[d] . . . Mary. . . ‘Fear not, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

“And the angel said unto [the shepherds], ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. . .’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

The angels are messengers of the Good News that God’s Son was born into our world to save you from eternal damnation, to bring you peace with God by coming down from heaven and being made man, living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead as a sacrifice to pay for your sins. 

The very name Jesus means “savior,” as the angel tells Joseph, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Fear not, for the Savior is your Savior; you have peace with God, your sins are all forgiven.

It seems there are angels all around us this time of year, and that’s very appropriate because the play such a prominent role in the Advent and Christmas story.  But, really, there are angels all around us not just at this time of year but all the time.  We don’t know how many angels there are, but the Bible uses symbolic expressions to indicate an enormous number beyond comprehension: “myriads of holy ones;” “a multitude of the heavenly host,” “thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand.”

Psalm 103 describes them as “mighty ones who do [the Lord’s] bidding.”  Part of what angels do is watch over God’s people, as Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” 

There are indeed guardian angels watching over you.  Psalm 91 says, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”  Jesus says of little children, “Their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father.”  “Their angels”; and not only little children, but every Christian has “their angels,” special guardian angels, assigned especially to you, to guard you in all your ways. 

But usually, we are not aware of the ways angels have delivered us.  And, if they do appear to us, it is often in a form that hides their angelic nature, as Hebrews says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Luke’s Gospel says, “[The women] went to the tomb early in the morning but did not find [Jesus’] body. They came saying that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. . .  But [the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”  To our modern mindset the idea of angels may seem like nonsense.  But, according to the Bible, angels really do exist, and you and your loved ones have special guardian angels watching over you. 

Because, you see, it’s not just images of angels that are all around you this time of year.  Those representations we see are a symbolic reminder that not only this time of year but always there really are angels all around you.  As Psalm 34 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

Amen.

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