A reflection by the Rev. Jim Purdy

Gathered all above,
while mortals sleep,

angels keep their watch
of wondering love.

Phillips Brooks, The Hymnal 1982, number 79

Often artists depict angels as cute, fleshy babies, cherubs. Others, as handsome heavenly messenger boys, youthful and androgynous and winged in rainbow colors.

Or angels are said to be God’s guardians — one angel is assigned to each and every person to keep that person safe, out of harm’s way.  I think of Clarence, Jimmy Stewart’s angel in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Angels help us cross streets, shoot basketball foul shots, catch passes, hit cutters, make difficult decisions. Angels are loving, comforting, completely powerful, conscientiously protecting.

In the Bible, though, angelic visitations are signs that something strange, something big, something wonder-filled, something terrifying and new is about to happen. God is stepping into the course of history, preparing to change things, to transform lives. The biblical angel’s message is usually one involving risky service rather than comfort or solace.

*   *   *

Touched by an angel, the teenage Mary said,

I’m not certain what all of this means, but, nevertheless,
here I am, ready to be of service in the work of God.
Let it be with me according to your word.

God comes to US, too, to each of us, to all of us. God comes not as a cute cherub, not as a friendly Casper. God comes to us in other people.

And when they come to us, the messengers of God ask us to give birth in some way — to give birth to a work of art, to a new relationship with another person, to a time of
self-discovery. When they come to us, the messengers of God tell us that we are capable beyond our imagining — capable of creating something new, capable of bearing a great burden, of serving in a great cause, of facing a daunting crisis, of nourishing a child’s or a parent’s life.

The messengers, the angels, of God come. They come to us, every day, constantly. Although they bear the names of our family members, co-workers, friends, adversaries, strangers, characters in our dreams, they are God, in disguise. And they wear faces that are not only compassion or challenge, but also vocation.

Angels, messengers of God, come to us. They announce in words or in gestures that something strange, something big, something wonder-filled, something terrifying and new is about to happen—

Follow me, God says through those people.
Follow me.

Follow me as I bless the world.
Follow me as I bless the world through you.

 * *   *

Sometimes, sometimes when we are touched by an angel, we hear our voices say,

Lord, we don’t know exactly what you want us to do,
but here we are, ready to be used in your service,
ready to bless your world.

Help us, dear God, to hear the message of the angels, the angels that proclaim the birth of faith and hope and love in each of us again today.

Then let us go on in life, let us depart in peace, according to your Word, Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives. Amen.

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