This time of year, with Gabriel’s ‘Do not be afraids’ and the heavenly host’s ‘glorias,’people tend to have questions about angels.
Much like the devil, pop culture’s assumptions about angels run far afield of what we actually find in scripture.
And as with the devil, the ubiquity of pop culture stereotypes on angels often makes people reluctant to jettison their Touched By An Angel/Highway to Heaven/Fat Cherub Baby Calendar images of angels.
So, if you’re like all the other people who’ve ever asked me about angels and devils then you’ll read my sober, scripturally based response and decide you like Michael Landon better.
As my son says before I smack him, ‘whatever’ (just joking).
First, what are angels?
Simply put, angels are messengers.
That’s what the word ‘angel’ literally means.
And you should notice how similar it is to the word ‘evangel’ or ‘proclamation.’
Angels do evangelism.
That, with few not contradictory examples, is what they do.
Angels are creatures of God and thus subordinate to God. They’re creatures given over to a specific purpose: the mediation of heavenly revelation or messages.
They’re God’s tweets in other words.
Because they’re creatures given for a specific purpose, they have no free will.
Because they are without free will, they are subordinate in creation to human beings- and if you’re about to push back on that it’s because you’ve got Milton’s Paradise Lost in your head not the bible.
Now, this heavenly revelation bit is key.
The message angels deliver is straight from the presence of Yahweh.
Think of the Holy of Holies and how risky it was for Israel’s priests to venture close to it.
Angels bring the holiness of God near into the present. Therefore, they’re scary. In a fear of God kind of way.
There’s a reason Gabriel is constantly having to say ‘Do not be afraid.’
Just like Jewels in Pulp Fiction, Gabriel is a ‘Bad m%^&$# F$%^&*(’
And Clarence, no matter how we might feel about the Jimmy Stewart movie, could never ever be mistaken for a Bad m%^&$# F$%^&*(
Back to the Christmas story or just the Gospels in general. What makes the Gospels take an angels distinct (especially compared to some of the Jewish writings in the centuries leading up to Jesus’ birth) is how the Gospels take on angels is thoroughly Christocentric (Jesus centered).
You’ve got angels, most notably Gabriel, at the beginning of the Gospel in the Nativity story.
You’ve got angels at the end, in the form of the strangers at the tomb, when Jesus is raised from the dead.
In the middle, you’ve got Jesus.
Why no angels? Because, back to the top, angels mediate God’s revelation.
And Jesus Christ is himself the perfect, complete revelation of God.
No other messengers necessary.
Which leads to a theological question I don’t have time for now but you can feel free to weigh in on:
Since God has sent us Jesus, the complete revelation of God’s message….
And since Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit….
Do we need
does God continue to send angels?