Modeling the Message and Mission of the Angels this Advent
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation. In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more amazing Story behind it.
Hark the Herald Angels
Last week we looked at the four Old Testament “mothers” of Christ and how they can enrich our experience of the upcoming season of Advent. This week I want to focus on some other “supporting actors” in the saving story of this season: the Angels.
A few years ago, I created a presentation called Angels: the Biblical Story of Our Unseen Allies. Although I thought I knew the Story of Salvation very well, I found myself repeatedly surprised to rediscover how present the angels are throughout the Bible Timeline. In fact, every period of the Timeline has angels present and helping at key moments. Of course, when we reach the infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, the presence of angels is intensified.
The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the coming of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:11-19) and brings Mary the amazing news of the conception and coming of Jesus (Lk. 1:26-38). Her husband Joseph will receive two visits from angels (Mt. 1:20-24; 2:13,19).
But my favorite angelic event is the visit to the shepherds (Luke 2:9-15). Shepherds were among the poorest and marginalized classes of people in the first century. That’s not insignificant. The angels didn’t appear to King Herod, a Roman official, or a Temple leader. They went to the fringes and announced the greatest message of human history to God’s little ones.
Given these different angelic moments, I want to propose three ways we can model the angels that surround the Advent of Jesus:
When the angels announce the Good News of Jesus to the shepherds, it seems the whole of heaven breaks out in response, ““Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk. 2:14). The shepherds then rush to see the King in the manger. After encountering the Holy Family, they take up the song of the angels, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk. 2:20). I love that we do this every time we pray the Gloria in the Mass. We are taking up the song of the angels and echoing the praise of the poor shepherds. Every Mass is then an invitation to the mystery of the Nativity. Consider making a commitment to attend Mass more frequently during this Advent Season. Use the Gloria as a point of meditation during your prayer times.
Angels almost always bring a message. In the Infancy Narratives, it is a message of hope and joy. We continue the work of the angels when we become faithful and fearless witnesses of this same Good News to our generation. Advent is a perfect time to share the Good News about Jesus. We can do this in so many ways. Consider writing a letter to your family and friends expressing what this Good News means to you personally and tuck it in an Advent or Christmas card.
Works of Mercy
The angelic hosts appeared to the poor shepherds first, a beautiful prefigurement of the Church’s preferential love for the poor. I often think that Mary very likely showed them hospitality when they came to worship her Son, sharing the meager food the Holy Family may have had with them. Consider a special offering to local or parish-based ministries in your area this Advent. Invite a widow, widower or single person in your parish to share a meal with your family. Make a simple bag of toiletries, water and hand warmers to share with the homeless you may encounter.
Painting “Anunciación” by Bartolome Murillo
One of my favorite and true contemporary angel stories, passed on by a lecture leader in a Scripture study about 12 years ago:
Billy Graham, suffering ill health, nevertheless came to Kansas City and held a revival in Chiefs Stadium. A family with two young sons, aged 5 and 8, attended one of the days. As they were driving home that evening, the mother turned in her seat and asked how the boys felt about what they had witnessed. The younger of the two said: “That old guy (Billy Graham) was pretty neat, but I really liked the big angel that stood behind him, holding him up. And he never had to spread his wings.”
I believe strongly in angels. I have not had a personal encounter with one, probably because I am not humble enough, aware enough to receive the messages they bring.
I think Mary, the shepherds, children, ALL innocents have a trusting, open, curious and honest faith that allows them to hear the heralds. The angels are always singing praise and exhorting us to holiness; we just doubt and/or get caught up in worldliness and cannot hear them over the cacophony of “stuff.”
Love your Angel story
Amen, Fisher, it is often the innocents and pure of heart who are privileged to actually see the angels. The angels are among us whether we see them or not. Some people are more aware than others of their presence. I know that my home is blessed. I know that Mary and the angels watch over my home and though I haven’t seen them, I’ve seen evidence of them. Twice, doors were mysteriously closed that should have been open; and a third time, a friend was inside doing some work when a door closed by itself. He called out, “It’s OK, I’m just working here”. He wasn’t even going to tell me about it, till I mentioned that I heard my inside door close and the outer storm door open by itself. I’m not quite sure what all the door closing means, but I feel like it means that I’m being protected from unseen “intruders”. I’ve had other experiences of unseen intervention throughout my life that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
If you want to see a beautiful video of angels present among us every time we celebrate mass, log on to http://www.healinglightofchrist.com/ After watching this 15 minute video, I bet you can’t help but look around you the next time you go to Mass, to envision or see what some have been blessed to see!
I appreciate how open you are to the signs of angelic presence in your life. Always good to hear from you, Marianne.
When I think of the Christmas Angels, mostly the Angels in Luke 1 announcing the Birth of Jesus I think of the Angels at the empty tomb announcing the Resurrection
Angels are the Bookends of Luke’s Gospel
I never thought of the Gloria as taking up the sing of the angels and nativity story at each mass, and I am a Christmas person! It is comforting to know that the angels also help and guide us on the way. The Bible gives us glimpses of the angels role and relationship with God and I doubt we could comprehend all that they do for love of Him.
I just wish that people would not be deceived into worshiping angels or into falling into the occult through those dangerous angel cards.
Angels have been so important in my life. I know I have my guardian angel with me at all times. During Christmas, I try to remind my grandchildren of their presence and to give a very special “thank you” to Our Lord for such a beautiful and wondrous gift. I bring out the story of the “Littlest Angel” and occasionally read to them while they get ready for school. The message of God’s unconditional love and patience for each of us is ever so present in this story.
Your ideas are inspiring and I will present these ideas to my children and grandchildren. This will be a Christmas to remember! May God bless you, Thomas.
I have been aware of having a guardian angel since I was in 3rd grade (I am almost 80). Your meditation on the Gloria will add to my Advent Joy! When I am in church, I greet the Guardian Angels of everyone present and those who will be present. I also try to visualize at times the church filled with everyone’s Guardian Angel. We need to call upon all the angels for their help just as we invoke the Saints. God Bless!
You are so sweet to bless me with your words. Although we haven’t corresponded with each other during these wonderful Bible Adventures, your words spoke volumes to me! May God Bless you and your guardian angel. You have made my day!
As I wrestle to better understand that angels from on high still exist I want to reflect on an angel experience my mother had five or six yrs ago. She was asleep for the night when for whatever reason woke up. She witnessed two angels looking upon here while she slept. They were at the bedroom window but inside the house. She closed her eyes for a few seconds then opened them up to make sure it was real and not just something she was dreaming. Then one of the angels came towards her while the other one stayed put. Again in an instant both angels were gone. My mother said she was at peace knowing they are watching over. I asked her how she felt about all of this. She said, “I felt safe and at peace.” Amazing experience for my mother.
My mother also saw an angel. My sister took care of my elderly parents so she used to commute 100 miles one way to work. One time, she forgot something and turned back around. When she walked into the house, my mother said, “who is that woman with you?” My sister asked, “what woman?” because she didn’t see the angel that my mother saw. On her way back to work, she passed the scene of an accident. Would she have been involved in that accident? Only God… and the angel… know…
Wow, another enlightening story! My mother thinks the angel was letting her know that she was going to. Be fine. Of course shortly after the angel visit we (my mother and siblings) lost my father.
I like the idea of writing letters to family and friends to share the Good News and to let them know what it means personally. Especially in this busy season. Imagine what can happen when they open up a Christmas card and a letter falls out, not describing the latest antics of the kids, or bragging about a promotion or a new car or a fancy vacation; but rather, just the simple message of Love. Describing the love of the Father for all His children. The Good News that God wants a relationship with each one of us. Describing how that great love touched our lives. Telling family and friends that Jesus loves them… and we do too…
This Christmas, may we pray more, praise Him more, proclaim the Gospel, and practice works of compassion and mercy to those less fortunate.