Sunday, September 29, 2013
An Angelic lack of Tinsel
I made the mistake of leaving the script of this sermon in the vestry at Mass today and, for the first time in a sermon, had to rely on Divine Guidance to preach without notes. As a result, I have had to amalgamate what I did say with what I planned to say. I hope this makes sense.
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Feast of St Michael and All Angels.Picture an Angel - any angel you like. Perhaps one that you’ve seen on a card or in a film, or, if you’ve been very lucky, one that you’ve met. What do you see? For many people, years of Nativity plays have taken their toll. Angels are little boys and girls dressed up in old white (usually off-white) sheets or pillow cases with a pair of cardboard wings and a halo made from a coat-hanger and tinsel. Or they are twee figures gazing out from a Christmas card merrily playing harps and pipes.
Do you think that’s right? Where does it say in Holy Scripture that Angels have wings? Where does it say they have halos?
What is the truth about angels?
The word “angel” simply means someone who has been sent. If we look at all the appearances of angels in Holy Scripture, they always appear with a job to do. They are beings with purpose. The first angel we encounter is one of the Cherubim whom God sends to block our way back into the garden of Eden.
On several occasions, we have angels doing what they seem to be best at – announcing births! Hagar, Abraham and Sarah, Hannah, Menoah’s wife, Zachariah, and of course Our Lady - all have an angel visit them to tell them that they are going to have sons that will do marvellous things. Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, Hannah has the prophet Samuel, Menoah and his wife have Samson, Zachariah has St John the Baptist and, of course, Our Lady bears the Lord.
At that point, we then have the famous heavenly host singing “Glory be to God on High” which is where we imagine those tinsel covered angels the most.
However, angels have other messages to give than simply announcing hatches, matches and dispatches. They bear the commandments of God to key figures. It was not the Lord in the burning bush, but His angel. It was the angel of the Lord that went before the Hebrews out of Egypt. The prophet Zechariah is instructed by an angel. It is an angel that releases St Peter from prison.
Throughout Holy Scripture, we are presented with beings that guide, prevent, announce, teach and even fight!
Fight? Is that something we expect angels to do?
In his Revelation, St John the Divine sees one of the most disturbing sights in all of Scripture - War in Heaven! Angels fighting each other! It all makes Heaven sound just as violent as Earth.
Let’s be clear about this war in Heaven, for in it, with St John, we see St Michael fighting the dragon, Satan, and his host and casting them out of Heaven. This tells us very clearly that angels, like us, have a choice as to whether to follow God or not. It also tells us that there is no room in Heaven for anything that is Evil.
This does, however, make it rather difficult for us on Earth.
“Therefore rejoice , ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. “
Isn’t that rather unfair on us who dwell on Earth? Do we now have to put up with Heaven’s rejects making our lives a misery with all the evil they can throw at us?
It is the Devil that accuses us before God. He is the one who tempts us into sin and rejoices when we inevitably fall into that sin. Remember that Satan seeks to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and now, he becomes the least. It is his pleasure to take it out on us, but we should not despair.
Listen carefully to what another voice from Heaven tells us. “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down , which accused them before our God day and night.”
We are being told one of the deepest of truths here. There is Evil in our world and we fight against it and sometimes it seems that we are destroyed by it. However, if we trust God, we will not be lost. God values each human being so highly that “he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”
God sent His Son to save us from our sins and bring us back to God, and our lives are guarded by angels. While we do suffer, they protect our souls. If we trust God, it is His angels that will give us strength just as they give strength to Our Lord Jesus as He agonises in the Garden of Gethsemane about His impending crucifixion.
Angels may not prevent our pain and suffering, but they can prevent our loss if we let them. The famous anthem at a Requiem Mass says, “May angels lead thee into paradise…”
However, the sheer genius of the Angel's victory in Heaven which supports Our Lord and Saviour's victory over Sin and Death is that St Michael binds Satan's influence to our Earthly existence. Our Earthly existence ends with our physical death and, at the hands of a loving Creator, our bodily resurrection in Him where the effects of Satan cannot affect us. Satan's influence perishes with the Earthly. This is why he is fighting so hard to make us forget about God with all the fleshly temptations he can muster. Our Living Faith in God will keep us from that.
We are not often able to tell angels apart from ordinary people, indeed, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares .” We may only ever know them as folk dressed in dazzling white standing in the the Lord’s tomb, telling us that He is risen. We should however, be thankful for them and what they do for us, remembering that they, like us, serve God.
Yet we should remember that an angel is simply someone who has been sent by God. We too could become angels if God chooses to send us to do His will. This give us a choice. Do we prefer a real halo bought by serving God, or do we prefer a halo of tinsel?