… or, a reflection on what we understand by the term ‘angel’
Last week I took my final pub carol service at my current local, the Pony and Trap. It was a fabulous occasion, with readings taken straight from the Bible and carol singing led by the community choir.
The theme of this year’s service was Angels. We heard the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and the choir of angels singing for the shepherds in the fields; and the choir led us in the singing of Angels from the Realms of Glory.
In my view Christmas really isn’t Christmas without angels. They feature heavily in the Christmas story, as they do sporadically throughout the Bible. The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’, and describes a being, either in human or heavenly form, who appears in the world to impart the news that God is about to intervene to change human history.
The angels in the Christmas story appear in a grand spectacle – they command their terrified recipients to “not be afraid.” Although their appearance may be far less remarkable, I’m convinced that all of us have experiences of angels in our lives, someone whose activity or message makes such a subtle change in our experience that if we are not alert we might miss it.
A member of Hug Cullompton once spoke about the ‘everyday angel’ who held a door open for her when, exhausted and laden with shopping, she had thought she could go no further. At the carol service I described the landlord and landlady of the pub as ‘everyday angels’. They have what I call a ‘remarkable ministry’ to their customers, offering loving care (as well as serving a drink) to anyone who comes through the door, regardless of how they look, act and sometimes smell. If an angel is God’s messenger, and God is love, then (as I told the congregation gathered in the pub on Thursday night) the demonstration of unconditional love they demonstrate in their pub makes them ‘angels’ in my book.
Talking about Angels
In my everyday work angels are a common topic of conversation. Opinions on them are incredibly varied, probably as varied as those I encounter about the existence, nature and identity of God. Some people think they are acts of the imagination – the creation of someone needing an emotional crutch to hold on to. Others can describe what their Guardian Angel looks like, even down to the clothes they wear. There are those who view angels as just another pie-in-the-sky idea of those peddling a ‘fake God’, and equally there are those who take seriously what the Bible says about them, believing them to be agents of God through which the direction of human history is changed forever.
Although I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, I can quite well believe in angels. If I can believe that a man who walked this earth 2000 years ago and died on a cross was God in human form, why not believe God acts in other miraculous ways to save the world and/or its people? The thing about belief is that it cannot be proved right or wrong – and anyone who says any different is mistaken. My daughter recently asked how I know God is there. I replied:
You know when you are trying to go to sleep and I’m in the next room? You can’t see or hear me, but you know I’m there, you can sense my presence. Well that’s what God is like for me. I can’t see or hear God, but I know God is there. And just knowing God is there makes me feel better.
Perhaps angels are a bit like that – or perhaps not. Who knows? After all, isn’t everything to do with belief just a leap of faith?