As we enter the season of Advent, the frequent mention of ‘angels’ strikes us. They appear throughout the events which begin the New Testament gospels: angels appear to Mary, to Joseph, to shepherds, to Zachariah, and to others.
Angels have long fascinated us. Artists and writers have imaged the missing details of what angels are and what they do.
But the images which are so familiar to us can also be misleading. The word ‘cherub’ is now linked to fat naked baby angels, seen chiefly on greeting cards around Valentine’s Day.
In Scripture, however, a ‘cherub’ is a supernaturally large winged ox. God sends “cherubim” – the plural form – to prevent Adam and Eve from getting back to the Tree of Life after their sin.
A fat naked baby would hardly be an effective security guard!
Other types of angels are also shocking: the word ‘seraph’ refers to something which we might describe as a winged flamethrower.
Happily, these terrifying forms are not the main manifestations of angels in Scripture. Principally, angels are messengers. In fact, the word ‘angel’ means simply ‘messenger’ in the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible.
Pastor Don Neuendorf points out that God’s use of angels reveals one of His characteristics: God is an active communicator.
Angels are but one of many ways in which God sends His good news. God is eager to use any and every means to tell people about His love for them.
Because the word ‘angel’ means simply messenger, there is no sharp distinction between human messengers and supernatural messengers. The ‘seraph’ with its six wings, and ordinary humans like you and me, can equally be God’s messengers.
So the appearance of angels in the events of Advent is a reminder to us, first, to be on the lookout for God’s messengers: He is a communicator, and He’s eager to tell us about the grace which He freely sends our way.
Second, the angels in the history of 2,000 years ago reminds us that, here and now, we also can be messengers for God. We can help to announce His good news to those around us.
A kind word, reassuring a friend of God’s care – a helpful deed to someone in need – you can be an angel!