Yesterday we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Trinity. In the afternoon, we had a special service, with Dr. Herbert Mueller, LCMS 1st Vice-President as guest preacher. But our morning service commemorated St. Michael and All Angels. The pastor loci preached. Here is what was said about that.
Conflicting images. That’s what we have here. On the one hand, we have the popular conception of angels – white fluffy wings, standing silently and serenely around children, holding their hands. Sometimes we have the cherubs, plump little babies with wings, flying about.
On the other hand, we have descriptions of angels in Holy Scripture. There is nothing to indicate fluffy wings, or little fat flying babies. The reaction of everyone who ever sees one of these angelic messengers is stark raving terror. That’s why the angels always begin with, Peace be with you. Fear not. Do not be afraid. Because in the angels we see reflections of the glory of God’s throne. Like trying to see clearly when the sun is reflecting off of a window. Bright, burning light. And in the case of angels, we have much more than the sun – we have the glory of God’s presence reflected.
And in the first two readings, we hear that the angels fought, and Satan was cast out. The great archangel Michael is a warrior. Not some serenely quiet statue to put in your children’s room, but a victorious warrior, who has cast out Satan from heaven, and stands in the light of God’s presence.
If you had an angel visit you, like we hear in Holy Scripture, it is certain you would think, as Saint Luke so eloquently records, “what manner of greeting this might be.” Are you being judged, are you about to be destroyed, or is this happy news? The angels tell the shepherds “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy” – but they say that because the shepherds have fallen face first to the ground. Their eating dirt when the angels appeared to them, and the skies split open. This is not some gentle angel on the shoulder moment. This is heaven and earth colliding, and the shepherds are afraid for their very lives.
And then, we have Jesus words, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The great angelic hosts serve the weak, the poor, the small and helpless – they serve the children. And those angels are the most important ones, the ones in the throne room itself, standing forever in the presence of God.
So we have great and humble, we have great news, and terrifying visions.
What are we to make of all this? Are we to construct elaborate angeology charts with names, descriptions, and so on? Is that how we honor the angels? After all, today is the day of saint Michael and all angels. And yet, Scripture mentions only two angels by name – Saint Michael and Gabriel – who announced the birth of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other ancient sources mention five more, but that’s it. So, of the whole angelic host we have no more than seven named – really only two for sure. What do we do with the whole angel thing, and why bother celebrating this feast? Especially when the popular conception of angels so poorly matches the biblical record?
Because the church is the church militant. Next month is Reformation day. The end of the church year soon follows – the last judgment and all of that. And until our Lord returns, we fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
When you are Baptized you are marked with the sign of the cross, both upon the forehead and upon the heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ he crucified. And in so doing, you are forever made an enemy of Satan. And the world rages against Christ and his church. You even struggle against your own sinful flesh each day. With The devil, the world and your own flesh arrayed against Christ, it’s no wonder we pray each day, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – a prayer that God’s kingdom would come among us, and that his will would be done among us. It’s a tough world, and for the Christian, it’s getting tougher, even in our own nation. And yet, we have the promise of victory through Jesus Christ. Today is a day to remember and be encouraged by the promise that God gives us – that his holy angels attend us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us. Today we give thanks for the great gift of the angelic hosts, who protect and guard us as we fight against the devil, world and our own sinful flesh.
And the fight is fierce, and the warfare long. And so, it’s good, as we turn the corner toward the final part of the church year, to remember that it is God who gives us the means to defend ourselves against the attacks of the devil. That he sends his angels to help protect us. And although we cannot see them, we know that he has promised that they are working on his behalf to keep you safe from Satan and his forces.
Many consider angels according to the words of Saint Paul, “When I was a child I thought, I spoke, I reasoned like a child.” When we grow up, we abandon such childish things. But this is not just a child dreams. Many abandon belief in the spiritual realms – the angels and demons, heaven and hell. But that is the life of battle that we live, even though it can not be seen with our eyes. And as the church year moves toward our hearing of the fight for the pure and everlasting Gospel, and then the final judgment as the church year comes to a close, we remember these hosts of heaven, whom God has given to help, support, strengthen and protect us.
Is it critical that we understand each and every detail of the Old Testament reading from Daniel, or the Epistle reading from the book of Revelation? Well, it would be nice, but it’s not necessary. We hear those readings, and we are encouraged, knowing that God takes care of us, protects us, that he is the victor over Satan, that Satan has been cast down out of heaven, and that Christ has won the victory not only over Satan, but over death and hell, by the shedding of his holy precious blood and by his innocent suffering and death.
Without that, the whole angel thing doesn’t really do us any good. Because as pure and wonderful as heaven may be; without Jesus, we stand no chance of getting there. We would be eternally condemned. And without Jesus, the whole service of angels wouldn’t matter in the slightest. They would only be messengers of judgment, harbingers of doom.
But instead, look at how they are used in Holy Scripture. Announcing to Zechariah the birth of John the Baptist – the one who prepares the way of the Lord, Announcing to Mary the birth of Jesus – God is with us. They always show up when things need a little push, a little nudge in the direction of God’s plan of salvation. And so the angel appears to Joseph and says, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” The angel appears again and tells Joseph to take the child to Egypt to escape mad king Herod, and then again to return after Herod’s death. Angels don’t just stand there. Angels announce – that’s what angel means – messenger. And the messengers of God, the angels, bring to us that good news of great joy: The birth of a Savior. They strengthen Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, before he goes to his death.
And Jesus tells us that there are angels who protect God’s little ones, and that they stand in the presence of God, looking on the face of the Father. Jesus takes seriously the protection of his people. He asks for a little child to be brought to him, and then says, “if anyone leads such a little child away from me, millstone around neck, drowned in the depths of the sea. Jesus puts his best agents on this – protecting his little lambs, bringing them safely home.
Jesus only gets angry twice in the Gospels– once when the buying and selling is going on the temple, instead of prayer. And then when the disciples try to keep little children from coming to him for a blessing. Jesus doesn’t get angry when Peter denies him, or Judas betrays him, or the crowds shout for Barabbas, or the soldiers nail him to the cross. He gets angry that children were not getting a blessing that he wanted to give them. Because that’s what Jesus does. He comes to bring life to little children who are dead in their sins. Little children who may be very young or very old, it doesn’t matter, we all need Jesus to save us, and he must do it as if we were little children – who can do nothing on our own. Jesus must do the saving. And so he saves. And then he preserves, he keeps us steadfast in the true faith. And the angels are sent as messengers of our heavenly Father to help protect us in that faith. Thanks be to God for the wonderful order of angels, who protect us from the crafts and assaults of the devil, who assist in keeping us in our baptismal grace, and who help to bring us safely into the loving arms of our heavenly Father when our life is past.