Todayis St. Michael and All Angels day. This has nothing to do with Los Angeles or the Angels of Anaheim. You probably won’t see anything about this on Facebook or Instagram. Hallmark doesn’t have cards for it, at least none that I could find. Angels are reserved for Christmas. Lowes and Home Depot are occupied with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all rolled into one commercial package – Hallowthanksmas. But not a trace of St. Michael let alone all the angels to be found in the home decorating aisle.
Angels are viewed as silly by some people in our enlightened age, a relic of the superstitious past or of childhood fairy tales. Science doesn’t have any use for the angels and is quite blind to their presence. Angels tend elude telescopes and micrscopes. We can measure the head of a pin to great accuracy, but we can’t know how many angels are dancing there, or even if they dance at all. That’s how it is with the invisible side of God’s creation. Angels are among the invisibles, a matter of faith than of sight.
Angels can be a source of fascination for some people, but for all the wrong reasons. They are not to be worshipped or adored. John was plucked from his knees when he bowed before his angel guide in the Revelation and was warned not to do that. Worship God, and Him alone. Angels are fellow servants with us, coworkers in the kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus, guardians, warriors, and Word proclaimers in the spiritual realm. To focus on the angels risks irritating them, and you don’t want to do that. Their faces are always turned to the Father, and our faces need to be pointed in the same direction. They worship together with us as one grand congregation, but they are not to be worshipped.
The angels we depict in our art tend to reflect our notions of what angelic beings should look like, and perhaps reveal more of ourselves than anything angelic. Angels in the Bible are neither cute nor chubby, Renaissance art notwithstanding. I don’t know what sort of personal issues Renaissance artists where working out when they painted angels as naked chubby little boys, but you can scrub your minds of those images. Angels are quite invisible and incorporeal. They are a part of the spiritual realm, along with the thrones, principalities, rulers, powers, and dominians, the seraphim, the cherubim, and a heavenly host no one can count. Ten thousand upon ten thousand of them. They worship, preach, and protect, but they are anything but cute. In fact, when they make themselves visible, the first reaction is one of fear with knees and faces to the ground in terror and awe, which is why they always have to say, “Fear not!” Fear not – to Daniel, to the shepherds in the field, to Zechariah and Mary, and to John in the Revelation. Fear not, because they are fearsome to behold, these mysterious spirit-creatures sent by God to do His bidding.
As incorporeal spirit-creatures, angles are neither male nor female, but on the rare occasions when they do appear to us, they always appear as men – the two young men seated at the tomb of Jesus, the angels Michael and Gabriel who are named in the Scriptures. We might want equal time for the ladies, but God isn’t much into equal time, and there appear to be no lady angels, just as there are no female fathers and male mothers. To each his or her own place and purpose.
The Apocrypha adds a third angel to the rank of archangel, Raphael. The rest remain quite nameless, though undoubtedly they too have names known only to God, for they are each beloved by God as you are. We confess their presence when we sing Holy, Holy, Holy with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in the Liturgy. They are as much a part of our worship as the total number of us gathered here today, though not being seen, they aren’t included in the weekly attendance figures. Sorry ushers, but you can’t count the angels for the synodical statistical report. There are advantages to being invisible; you can come and go undetected.
There are some mistaken notions about angels that we ought to clean up on this day of the angels. We don’t have assigned angels like the one in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” nor are there angels working behind the scenes to clean up our messes and solve our problems, as in the TV show “Touched by an Angel.” I know people who claim to have seen or felt the presence of an angel at one time or another in their lives, and I have no reason at all to doubt them. It’s certainly possible. But in general, angels are imperceptible to us; we don’t need to be looking for them. Seek the kingdom of God, and the angels will be right there alongside you.
We don’t become angels when we die. That’s a common misperception, especially when it comes to the death of children. “He’s now an angel in heaven.” No he isn’t, nor was Lazarus. We are sons and daughters of Adam, homo sapiens, humans. Angels are angels of one sort or another. Entirely different creatures. It makes as much sense to say we become angels as to say we become unicorns or fuzzy rabbits. We die and rise as human creatures embraced in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who became our flesh to save us. The angels marvel at this, because they can’t die and so can’t participate in the life of Jesus the way we can. That’s why the devil and his fallen angels aren’t saved by the death of Jesus. They can’t die and rise. We can. O happy death to have such as Savior as Jesus!
Speaking of death, angels do seem to serve as heavenly pallbearers. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, angels bore the soul of poor Lazarus the beggar to the bosom of Abraham where he was comforted in death. “Lord, let at last thine angels come. To Abram’s bosom bear me home.” Just as we have pall bearers to bear our bodies to the grave, so the angels bear our souls to their rest in God, awaiting the resurrection of the body. We never just fly off on our own, but are always dependant upon the ministry of others, whether of men or the angels.
Angels are preachers of the gospel, like Gabriel who proclaimed the Promise of God to Daniel as well as to Zechariah and blessed Mary. Mary heard the Word spoken by the angel, and she conceived the Word in her virgin womb. Angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds for Bethlehem. Gloria in excelsis Deo; Glory to God in the highest. When God sends an angel to preach, He wants to put an exclamation point behind it so our dull ears will hear. His usual preachers are not angels, but guys like me – hardly angelic but no less preachers of the Word of God. Would an angel preacher make it easier to believe? I don’t think so. They would just become another religious spectacle, much like celebrity preachers on TV.
Angels are spirit warriors, like Michael, the field general of the angelic hosts who led a great battle in heaven with the devil and his angels and conquered by the eternal blood of Christ in the same way that we conquer here on earth. We are reminded that there are wars in heaven and the spiritual realm, for which our only weapon and participation is the Word of God and prayer. Prayer is how we fight alongside the angels. We are still in prayer even as they battle with the powers, dominion, thrones and authorities.
Angels rejoice over one sinner who repents. Whenever a child or adult is baptized, whenever someone comes to faith’s recognition that Jesus is their Savior from Sin and Death, the angels rejoice. They rejoiced over you when you were baptized, and they rejoice whenever you are forgiven. Your salvation is their joy, as is the case for every servant of God, whether man or angel.
Angels ministered to Jesus in his wilderness temptation. Angels attended to Him in His dark night of prayer in the garden, and they are there alongside you in your darkest nights of prayer. But no angels came to intervene on Jesus’ cross. There Jesus was all alone, doing what He, and He alone, was sent to do – bear the sin of the world and the weight of your salvation on His shoulders. No angel could do that. Not Michael, not Gabriel, not Raphael, not the countless armies of angels. They can only look on with awe and wonder and worship at the Mystery of our salvation.
Today we are invited to become as little children in spite of our adult sophistications, and to remember that there is much more to this world than our eyes can see. We are invited to see with faith’s childlike imagination and recognize that there is a vast mysterious realm of angels of which we have only an inkling and even less, a clue. And Jesus is Lord over it all, the visibles and the invisibles.
St. Michael and All Angels day opens up a broader vision for us who can’t see beyond our daily needs. There are angels out there, my beloved. Crazy looking spirit beings on fire with pairs of wings and weird faces like that of a ox, a lion, an eagle, a man. Beings that cause strong men to cower in fear. There are weird and strange and holy things beyond our wildest dreams, and well beyond our reason and senses. We are reminded that our wars are just one side of a great cosmic conflict with Sin, Death, and devil. And while the war in heaven is won, the battle on earth continues because the devil knows the clock is ticking. His days are numbered; his time is short. Do we need to wonder why our days are as crazy as they are? The devil knows his time his short, and he will stop and nothing to get our eyes off the prize – the cross of Jesus and the life that Jesus brings.
Don’t pray to the angels, pray with them. Don’t worship the angels, worship with them. Don’t look for angels, they don’t want to be found, and they will find you if God needs to send you one. He knows the address. Seek Christ and His kingdom. Set your face in the direction their faces are set, and pray to your Father through your one and only Mediator and Priest Jesus Christ. Don’t wait for angels to preach to you, you already have more than enough preachers: Moses and the prophets, the apostles and evangelists – the Scriptures – and you have pastors who fill this pulpit. You don’t need angels. You have Christ risen from the dead. You have His life and death, HIs body and blood, His baptism and forgiveness. And the angels rejoice that you have it.
To think about the angels is think in the way of a “little one” of faith. It’s kind of appropriate on this day when we bless the teachers of our preschool and afterschool as they start their school year. Children believe in angels when they hear about them. Sadly, the older they get, the harder it is for them to believe. That’s why Jesus picked up a toddler and said, “Unless you become as this little one, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” A teenager wouldn’t work. It’s the little one who gives us the image of faith. You don’t have to be this big to go on the ride to heaven; you have to become this small. Don’t look down on the little ones who believe; look up to them in their littleness.
They teach us the way of faith, and their angels always see the face of your Father in heaven.