Seeing angels

Traditions have to start somewhere. Ten years ago I began an advent tradition of hanging up one angel each day in my house.

Visitors (and lodgers ) are invited to spot the angels. I only put up my decorations and put out my crib scenes on Christmas eve, so my angels anticipate the coming of Christmas.

Advent angels in the gospels appear in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew angels come in the shadowy worlds of dreams. In a dream Joseph is reassured that Mary, his betrothed, has not been unfaithful. Later, again in dreams, angels warn him and wisemen, of the threat of Herod.  Jesus is born into an uncertain fearful world, one in need of peace.

In contrast in Luke’s gospel, angels are joyful and  exuberant, proclaiming the good news of the Messiah. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist is struck silent but Mary responds from her heart to the Angel Gabriel with her vision of a just society. ‘The poor will be lifted up: the rich will be sent empty away’. The throng of angels appearing to the shepherds fill the skies with the news of the time of peace. These are not private, sentimental angels, angels that get stuck on the top of Christmas tree. These are angels who bring the message that heaven can be seen on earth in the creation of peace.

The presence of angels in Luke’s gospel sets a scene of awe and wonder and mystery. Readers learn that this is no ordinary story but herald an extraordinary time in a drama of heaven and earth. However, angels can also create a stumbling block in this modern world. Talk of angels shifts the birth story into the category of fantasy and fairy tale, easily dismissed or avoided. If angels, why not unicorns?

One answer is to say that language of angels is figurative . The gospel writer expresses awe and wonder through talk of angels .

But I think it is more than this. Talk of angels also invites us to experience the world as holy, infused with awe, and wonder. It invites me to talk of my own experience of angels – being led through the back streets of Falmouth when lost, or the angel who lifted my spirits when low when I spotted her in the street – playful language but also language opening the door to that which is beyond the ordinary and the mundane, to the profound.

It’s sometimes hard to cling to the hope of peace of which the angels sing. Perhaps by singing of them , by putting up images of angels , by allowing the possibility of experiencing angels,  we can renew how hope of peace and our role in creating it .

Sandra Palmer (the second in a short series on Advent images, which Sandra very kindly offers to us – the first is here)

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About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
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