Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on
Four corners to my bed
Four angels there be spread
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away
In the bedtime prayers of my childhood there seemed little difference between the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and the shining guardian angels whom I was certain were my overnight companions....
I loved those angels, believed in them implicitly – and still, as this feast day of St Michael and All Angels approaches, I find myself dreaming happily of wondrous golden beings whose presence reassures me that all is well with the world.
In that I guess I'm in good company. Angels are hugely popular today. Gift shops can rely on selling any number of angel trinkets...books of angel stories walk off the shelves at a time when public interest in more mainstream expressions of faith seems at a very low ebb. People LIKE the idea of heavenly beings charged with taking care of us....a reassurance that we are not on our own in a hostile universe.
But, you know, the Biblical experience of angels is very very different.
Often their arrival seems to be anything but reassuring – and perhaps that's why every angelic appearance in the New Testament opens with the words
“Don't be afraid”
Annunciation, Ressurrection, Ascension...
Heaven in all its dazzling splendour breaks into our world. Time is interrupted by eternity
It's alarming stuff right enough – even before we've discovered quite what it is that the angel has to say.
Just think of the most famous angelic appearance of all.....Gabriel's mission to Mary.
Imagine yourself as that teenage girl, minding her own business in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.
Hear those words spoken to you.
“Do not be afraid Mary – for you have found favour with God. You will bear a son”
BEAR A SON!
No wonder Gabriel feels the need to begin the conversation by speaking reassurance.
“Do not be afraid...”
Words that suggest that he knows he has already lost that particular battle!
And só often that's how it seems.
Angels break into our world as messengers of heaven – and their tidings turn the world upside down.
Like a stone dropped into a pond, their messages ripple outwards, touching and changing many lives in ways we could never imagine.
Jacob is at a pretty low ebb when he has his vision of angels
He has cheated his brother out of his birthright, run away from home and is sleeping rough
He's not on retreat, attending to his soul. He's on the run. He's scared, and he's tired. Since he has a stone for his pillow it may not be surprising that his sleep is disturbed.....but his vision is one that sums up the ceaseless activity of angels as they act as go-betweens constantly carrying messages between our world and heaven.
a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it
That's the vision – and then Jacob hears his own good news.......that God has a plan for him, - even fraudulent, fearful Jacob - and will not forsake him til that plan has become a reality.
Angels prepare us to hear of God's plans
They appear at times and in situations that may seem most unpromising...as agents and messengers of God's good news.
And their words and their presence awakens us to a truth that we all forget
Jacob put it this way
“Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not”
Angels alert us to God at work in our world...they point towards God's actions, his plans, his presence
Good news then....
Which brings me to one more thing.....their name ANGEL means messanger but it shares its roots with another message of good news – EVANGELISM
Perhaps my childhood self wasn't that far out in confusing the saints and the angels of that poem!
And perhaps that's where we come in
We are not, surely, to be content to be passive recipients of the Good News the angels bring...
Like them, we have a calling to point out those surprising places where God is at work in our world só that others too may see and celebrate
And, for ourselves, having noted God at work we are to join in the ceaseless chorus of praise that resounds throughout creation
Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy holy name
Evermore praising thee and saying “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee O Lord most high”