Psalm 8, 148 (Morning)
Psalm 14, 150 or 104 (Evening)
Daniel 12:1-3 or 2 Kings 6:8-17;
Mark 13:21-27 or Revelation 5:1-14
Most people have no clue that our popular notion of angels–ranging from figurines in truck stops, elaborate tattoos, to various works of art–is really a very post-New Testament notion. As best as we can tell, the seeds of how we tend to think of angels in popular culture come from the writings of a 5th century Syrian monk who wrote under the name “Dionysius the Areopagite.” He more or less made a scorecard of nine orders of angels and their relative rank. Folks evidently believed he knew what he was talking about, and these “nine choirs of angels” were expanded upon by Pope Gregory I and Thomas Aquinas.
In short, we’ve morphed angels into some sort of being that most of us would not be afraid to meet–but that’s not the experience of folks through the window of the Bible. Most of the time, when people in the Bible encounter an angel, it scares the beejesus out of them, so much so, that the angel is always having to say “fear not.” The exception to the rule is Mary, who’s only “perplexed.” (I always have this image of Mary, with that goofy look that only a fourteen-year-old girl can muster, thinking, “What the…”)
Here’s my confession: I’m not really crazy about angels–at least, not the truck stop figurine renditions of them–and I’m always a little creeped out by that version. They’re just too glittery and sparkly and Tinkerbell-ish for my tastes. I’ve told people many times, “If I DO have a guardian angel, he has a dirty robe, dog doo on his shoes, a big tattoo on his bicep, beard stubble, and smokes a cheroot. I would listen to that guy. I wouldn’t pay a bit of attention to one of those sweetie-poo sparkly ones.”
So, to make peace with my own discomfort about angels, I did a little research. About the only thing we can glean for sure from the Bible and from historical commentary at the time is that angels are some sort of created being different from humans, that people are sort of captivated by the notion of them in story and sacred writing (the ancient Hebrews were interested enough in them to name two classes of them, cherubim and seraphim, and to even give a few individual names, like Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael) and that the word “angel,” both in Hebrew and Greek, means “messenger.”
What seems to jump out from that for me, is that, whether a person views angels as real or metaphorical, they certainly represent a message of good news despite fear on the part of the recipient of this news. They represent the message of a Divine Love that casts out all fear–even our own. They are the embodiment of those moments of grace and mercy we find in our own difficult or fearful situations.
When we go back and view the Magnificat in this light, we can begin to understand that it is a turning point for our own fears. Mary did not fear the angel who greeted her, nor the message given to her. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to, either. Something with a fearful countenance doesn’t necessarily have to be feared–but that our task is to listen, ponder, and act.
In our readings today, we see the many faces of how the ancients viewed angels, and that, ultimately, their purpose is to herald the presence of the Messiah. In particular, in our reading in Revelation, we see that their presence is myriad–as in everywhere, more than we can count. Yet our experiences tend to be seeing Christ only episodically, at best. Just as how I’ve had to find my own peace with the notion of angels, I think many of us struggle to find peace with the notion that God in Christ is everywhere, even in the faces of unlikely people or unpleasant situations. Our reading in Job reminds us that these God-moments can arise from turmoil and tumult, and that we need a certain level of humility that we can’t possibly understand the Grand Scheme of the Universe.
What can you bring to the table with your faith community and loved ones this Michaelmas in understanding the myriad presence of angels? What stories can you share of the heralding of God’s presence in the whirlwind?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid