We first hear the Bible talk about angels in Genesis. Not for the creation of the world, but at the fall of man. After Adam and Eve bring sin and death into the world by their disobedience, after God speaks the curse of death and disorder in the world, and also the promise of the Savior, he places an angel at the entrance to the garden. An angel, it must be noted, who carries a flaming sword. Angels are not the sort to be messed with.
It is later in the prophets, that we get the backstory that the serpent was really the fallen angel Satan. Angels are spoken of in two ways – as messengers who carry the Word of God to specific people at great moments in the history of salvation. And as fierce warriors who fight apocalyptic spiritual battles that mere mortals can not see. Angels are created by God to be mighty and glorious beings who speak the word of our Lord and fight with flaming swords.
There is another scene laid out for us. Angels before the throne of God. Isaiah sees a vision. The angels singing the great song of praise to the Trinity: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of his glory. And we are told, that they have six wings – two hide their face, two hide their feet, and two are used for flying. Now consider this – the great and glorious beings, created to be in the presence of God and serve as His holy messengers, do not look upon his face. They are in the presence of the almighty. They hide their eyes, lest they see things that are beyond what they are given to see, because the one who created them is far greater than they are.
With that in mind, it only makes sense that sinful humanity, kept from the tree of life by a flaming sword, would not be allowed to see the face of God. Moses asked to see God, and was told he could only see the backside of the glory of God. If he saw the face of God, he could not live. Not, it’s so bright that you would be blinded. Or, you really wouldn’t understand what you see. Think Indiana Jones faces melting sort of stuff. Just for looking at the face of God. We’d all be a bit safer if we had a set of wings, not to fly, but to hide our eyes from the face of God.
And yet, Jesus tells us that these majestic angelic beings, including the great archangels who cast Satan out of heaven, and who stand in the presence of God, who were created by God with a set of wings specifically to hide their eyes from the face of God, Jesus says that there is a class of angels who are actually great enough to look at that face that would kill even Moses.
The great mighty angels who dare to gaze at the face of God are none other than the angels sent to protect the little babies. The greatest angels sent to protect the littlest among us.
Pop stars have bodyguards. The president has his Secret Service, the Pope has the Swiss guard. The Queen of England has the palace gaurds with the funny hats. The important folk get the best protection. The better the protection, the more important the person. Babies get the angels who look at the face of God. Beware how you treat them. God takes protection of the little ones very seriously.
And when Jesus says, “Rather than causing one of these little ones to sin, it would be better if you had a great millstone tied around your neck, and you were cast into the sea” he’s not just exaggerating for dramatic effect. Divine retribution brought to you personally by the flaming sword squad.
When the people try and throw Jesus off of a cliff, there’s no anger. He Just disappears and walks away. When the disciples, yet again, don’t understand what he’s saying, he patiently explains it to them. He rebukes them. But not in anger. When the crowd tries to make him a bread king, he goes to the mountains to be alone. No hard feelings. Just not what he’s about. Throughout his entire crucifixion, as the body of God himself was abused, Jesus never once gets angry. He asks his heavenly Father to forgive them.
Jesus gets angry twice. Once when he sees them selling in the temple. His father’s house is defiled. And when the disciples tell the people to take the children away. “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for unto such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven. I tell you the truth, whoever will not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall never enter it.” There is a reason that Baptism is called a new birth of water and the spirit. Because we become as the little children in that water, whether we are actually babes in arms, or whether we are 100 years old. The water of Holy Baptism brings us, as infants, into the arms of Jesus to bless us. And woe to him who would cause one of Jesus little ones to sin. The angels protecting the little ones are the biggest baddest most fearsome and important angels around. The only ones who get to look on the face of the Father in his glory.
What does God think is most important? More than the vision given to Isaiah, more than the talks he has with Moses, more even than the angel guarding the tree with the flaming sword? Infants.
Once again, God choosing the week things of the world to shame the strong, and the simple things to shame the wise. But maybe it shouldn’t surprise us so much. After all, God created Adam and Eve, placed them in the garden to tend it, and then blessed them with these words, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” God blessed marriage, and the family, and gives to mankind the holy task of bearing and raising children. It’s after the fall that it turns out that it’s going to be much harder than we thought. Strife in families as we refuse to submit to the authorities God has instituted, the order of creation ignored, infidelity, barrenness, parents who abuse their position, children who rebel and do not obey and honor their parents, siblings who do not forgive, or who do not show godlike love and kindness to their brothers and sisters.
But those abuses do not mean that marriage and family should be discarded. As Luther points out regarding Baptism – the fact that it can be abused means theirs something important there. And that Satan and the world spend so much time attacking marriage and the family means it must be important. This is critical stuff. How important?
Jesus himself was born into a family. God enfleshed had a mother, and an earthly foster father, to whom even he who created the world submitted and was obedient. Because of course, Jesus real Father is the heavenly Father. Even there – look at what you have – God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. Jesus patterns the family in this world after the relationships in the Holy Trinity. And then he places himself in a family. Jesus does not himself get married – his holy bride will be the church, whom he creates out of his side as blood and water flows, taking us back to the garden, where Eve is formed from the side of Adam. We are his people. Part of the family of God. For as the church, his holy bride, is taken from the side of Jesus, so we are then born to our holy mother the church through the waters of Baptism. And now, God the Father – the same “no man can look upon my face and live” Father of the eternal Son – is our Father. And we can now approach him as dear children approach their dear Father. That’s why he gives us the prayer that begins Our Father who art in heaven. He is our true father. And we are his true children.
And God our loving heavenly Father feeds us with food that does not spoil, but remains to eternal life. God feeds us with the very God-flesh that was crucified on the cross. The things that happen here are not just gathering and talking and singing and going away feeling better about ourselves. These are eternal angel with a flaming sword sorts of moments. We don’t need to go on a great crusade or pilgrimage to find God in holy relics, or to see him in important earthly leaders from ancient cities. We get the whole presence of God right here, at the altar of the Lord, where God himself is present as he has promised. Not just a spiritual feeling, or a faith experience. But the real presence of Christ for you. This is my body, given for you. For you. And now you eat the flesh of God himself. You, a child of God, a little one whose angel sees the face of God and yet lives, get to do what the angel does not – you eat the body and blood. And that’s because you were given a blessing the angel was not – God did not become an angel. He became one of us. A human being in this world. How strange and wonderful it is, but also true – God is now with us. He has exalted us by his condescension to become one of us. And now he feeds you with himself. This is the very abused and crucified flesh of God’s only son, for you. Take it with fear and trembling, but be fed with it as he has said, because the church is his holy people, you are his holy child, and he has given it for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Thanks be to God.