Friday, November 30, 2018

Advent Angels Introduction


Angels are a common feature of many Christmas decorations and cards. They are often pictured rather sentimentally, as golden haired children, or shining, gentle beings wafting about in clouds of light. The angels we find in the Bible, though, are far more varied and, dare I say it, interesting. In this series of Advent readings we will meet angels who would probably terrify us if we met them (there is a reason why so many angelic messages start “do not fear”!)

About Angels

A great deal has been written about the development of Biblical ideas about angels – far too much to touch on here. At the time the Bible was written, however, it was taken for granted that the world was populated by divine beings of one sort or another. Some faiths believed in a whole host of Gods and Goddesses, but for the Jews, who held firmly to the belief that there was just one God, angels were important as they symbolised God’s presence with people and spoke his messages to them. Sometimes, especially in the Old Testament, writers flip between talking about the voices of angels and the voice of God in the course of a story. For example, in the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, the writer starts off by saying that “the angel of the Lord” spoke to Moses, but gradually it becomes clear that it is God himself who is speaking. The point is, though, that the angels only say what God has told them to say, so to hear from an angel is the same thing as hearing from God. The word “angel” is derived from “angelos”, which is the normal Greek word for a messenger of any kind.

The idea of angels developed slowly through the course of the period covered by the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), so we can’t always expect to find a consistent picture, but by the time of Jesus, there were well-developed ideas of different ranks and orders of angelic beings – cherubim and seraphim, named archangels like Michael and Gabriel, each with their own separate functions and positions. Some of these ideas were almost certainly shared with or borrowed from other cultures and traditions. However, the important thing is that stories about angels remind us that the God that Christians and Jews worship is a God who loves us, protects us and wants to communicate with us. Whether we believe literally in these creatures or not, we have a God who cares enough about his creation to want to be in touch with it and present in it.

Angels in the New Testament 

Angels are mentioned in the New Testament quite often, but it is noticeable that no angels appear during the time of the ministry of Jesus. There are angels at his birth, angels ministering to him in the desert before he begins his ministry and angels announcing his resurrection, but during his ministry there is no need for angels, as people can meet God in him.

During this series of readings we will be meeting angels who minister in various different ways. We will hear stories about worshipping angels, warrior angels, guardian angels and herald angels. (There aren’t equal numbers of these different categories – it depended on the number of stories I could find about each!)

What might God say to us through the angels this Advent? The questions at the end of each day’s reflection might help you to find out. You can think about them on your own, or discuss them with others.

·         Look out for any Christmas cards you receive this Advent that have angels on them. What do you think the artist who created them might have thought about angels?

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