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In the popular culture an angel is a small little cherub, or a cute little guy with wings. And in our experience warfare is brutal and violent, with great heroes doing mighty deeds. So on this, the feast of Saint Michael and all angels, when we hear of a great war in heaven, between the archangel Michael and those who rebelled, we have conflicting messages. But the messages our culture sends are the reverse of the truth. Angels are not little cherubs with wings. That is actually an image from Roman mythology – pagan worship of false gods. In Holy Scripture angels are great and glorious beings, their appearance is always at crucial times in the history of salvation. And the first thing they say is invariably “Do not be afraid” because the people are terrified. The shepherds were on the ground in fear. Even the mother of our Lord wondered if she was about to be destroyed. The first angel recorded in holy scripture guarded the way to the tree of life after the sin of Adam and Eve. He held aloft a flaming sword to keep fallen humanity away. Angels show up again ascending and descending the ladder to heaven in Jacob’s dream. The angel of death visits the firstborn of Egypt, but spares those who have the blood of the lamb on their doorpost. The angel slays 185,000 of Sennacharib’s troops just outside the walls of Jerusalem during the time of Hezekiah. The angel thwarts wicked Herod’s plan to kill the baby Jesus, warning Joseph to flee with Mary to Egypt. The angel strengthens Jesus after his temptation, and again in the garden before his crucifixion. The angel rolls away the stone at the tomb on the day of resurrection, and the soldiers fall down as if dead. The angels speak to the disciples at the ascension, promising them that Jesus will return. Angels are not cute little guys. They are the messengers of the most high God. We pray in the morning and evening prayer, “let your holy angel be with me that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”
Angels are great beings.
Spiritual warfare – that is also not as we might think of it. It seems like it should be an epic struggle. Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Certainly thunder and lightning, wind and fire and smoke should be visible if the angelic forces are doing battle. But here we are wrong again. The angels of the little ones are the angels who see the face of the heavenly Father. Little children get the highest ranking angels. Because they are the most important. The wisdom of God shuns the mighty things of this world, and goes after the weak and foolish things, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. And when we speak of spiritual warfare, of angelic guards, we are speaking of the small humble things of this world.
The account of Job, who had Satan mocking him before the throne of God, and who suffered terribly because of his faithfulness, would have looked far different to those in this world. A man brought low. He had lost it all. There were no insurance claims to fill out. The camels the herds, even his children and his health were gone. But God did not abandon him.
When we look around us, we see power players in the world, doing great things. Face time on TV, important titles before their names, a retinue of followers and hangers on. Their every pronouncement followed and analyzed. Certainly those sorts of struggles are the important ones. God is interested in the little children. The babes in arms. The ones who fuss and fume during church, the ones who cry for their meals, who can’t roll over yet, who can’t even get a sip of water without help from a parent. They are totally helpless. Those are the important ones. The world says God helps those who help themselves. Scripture tells us that God watches over the helpless. And that he will avenge those who are mistreated by the powerful of this world.
Saint Michael and All Angels day is a day of reversal. The mighty are warned. The powerless are comforted. Because the battles we see are not the battles that are. The real battle is not against flesh and blood but against all the powers and authorities of this world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. On Saint Michaels day we are instructed that those battles are not great mighty deeds that are remembered. They are the simple acts of faith. Job was not attacked because of his power, but because he prayed daily and taught his children to do the same. Jesus was not hounded out of Judea and forced to flee to Egypt because of some plot of palace intrigue. He was run out of town because he presented no threat to mad Herod at all. He came to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. He came to proclaim the good news to the poor. To preach the Gospel to all. That is why he was run out of town. That is why he was opposed by the leaders of the people as an adult. And the word of God is why he was put on the cross. Because the world can not hear or accept the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. Angels strengthened Jesus for that ordeal. And on the cross – the pinnacle of weakness and powerlessness – we see the greatest battle. Oh, the people didn’t see it that way. The Disciples would only come to understand it after the resurrection. To all the world it looked like a fool who got too big for his britches and paid the price. But the cross was a battle between death and life. It didn’t look like it. But it was. Satan was crushed, his power over fallen humanity broken once and for all. Death, the final enemy, lost its sting that day.
So also, we see that life and death battle between the Word of God and Satan every time a child is brought to the font and given the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Satan’s prize is taken from him, and is claimed by our heavenly Father as his own. God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ. That is what happens here. If you want to see spiritual warfare, look no farther than the font. And look at the houses where our members dwell, where Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Seeking to turn them aside from the word of God and prayer. Seeking to turn them back to the things of this world, and away from the things of God. Look not to the great things, but to a parent teaching a child to fold his hands for prayer, to speak the words of God, “Our Father who art in heaven…” That’s the spiritual warfare we see each day – parents teaching children to pray, teaching them of the love of Jesus. Raising them in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. Satan attacking and trying to claim back what was taken from him in that holy water. That is the spiritual war that is going on. A member who lies weak and dying, hearing the word of Christ your sins are forgiven, tasting for the last time in this world the body and blood given and shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins. And then entering the world to come, where the tree of life stands unguarded, and the invitation is for all those who are hungry to eat to the full.
Don’t be fooled by the powerful things of this world. The mighty angels of God who stand in his presence day and night – they are tasked with defending the least of these from Satan.
Jesus as the only begotten Son of God gave up everything so he could die on that cross, so he could win the battle over death and the grave by going into them, and coming our victorious. We see in Jesus the pattern for our own lives – he was weakest of all, least of these. And he went into battle on our behalf on that cross. It didn’t look like it. The world mocked and jeered. His disciples ran away. But it was the battle of the ages. And Jesus came out victorious. Just as he promises for all those who believe on his name.
The things of God are found in the weak and the powerless. The family going through difficult times. The sick, the aged, the dying. Those are the favored children of God, who have been given the most powerful angels, so that you would be defended from the attacks of Satan. So that you would not be overcome by the things of this world, not even by death. Today we are reminded of these heavenly messengers who stand to defend us from Satan and all his works and all his ways – the lies that would lead us away from God and his word. And we are comforted, because we have the promise that not only do the angels battle for us, not only do they intercede on our behalf, but the Father himself hears our prayer as well, and he loves us and has promised to give us every good thing. He has promised even to care for us through death, and into the life which Jesus now gives us, and has promised to us in all its fullness when he returns. But that return will not be as he came the first time – in meekness. The return will be in glory. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And even now, even in this world of temptation and suffering and weakness, we join them in singing their song of praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.”