Isaiah 63 : 7 – 9, Psalm 148 #18
Matthew 2 : 13 – 23
Do you have an angel in your heart? Apparently, 60% of Americans secretly think that the angels really exist. I looked up the Gospel lesson for today, and I debated with myself for a while if I should speak about the slaughter of babies or about the angels. And I decided on the angels, because they are badly neglected Biblical characters. On three important crucial occasions, Joseph was informed by the angel what he should do. Today”s lesson says that thanks to the angel, the Jesus escaped the slaughter of babies in Bethlehem. I want suggest that contemporary equivalent of the angel is Hobbes in the comic strips "Calvin and Hobbes." Hobbes may be for other people a figment of Calvin”s imagination, only a stuffed tiger. But for Calvin, he is a best friend, a constant companion, a comfort, and an inner voice of honesty and wisdom. He is what often angels are in the Bible. If we have problems with the idea of angels we might want to ask, "Who can be our Hobbes?"
Angels play prominent roles in the Bible. The word "angel" comes from a Greek word for "messenger". Most of the world”s religions have the notion of angels. An early medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas said that the angels were a metaphor for "pure intellect, neither male nor female but also assume whatever form they liked." However nowadays we don”t speak about them. We can comfortably speak about God. But Angels? No. I wonder if we think the idea of an angel is too bizarre, lest people think we are crazy.
There are more people who openly admit that they talk with cats or dogs. My daughter virtually refuses entry into her home unless I talk to her two cats. All the animal lovers understand that. Some people even speak with gold fish. I must admit I don”t understand that, but that is, of course, my shortcoming. We all need something to help us think and sort ourselves out. Some people talk to themselves aloud. Why not? They are not crazy. We need a mirror to have an objective view of what is inside us. An angel is a catalyst who can facilitate that reflection process. I prefer to write down things to help me think; nowadays using a computer – it”s the same thing. I talk to a computer to think. Discussing things with Muriel helps very much, also. While we do that kind of thing, we pause in a space and time between realities. We are with the angels. It allows God to intervene. Non-religious people may want to call it serious thinking or something like that. But it”s the same thing.
Angels keep you honest. In the comic strip, like any six year old boy Calvin hates Susie and all other girls, at least that”s what he thinks. But Hobbes loves Susie, he enjoys being near her, an honest but hidden feeling of any little boy. Hobbes sticks with Calvin thick or thin, good time or bad, together in a terrible fear of that slimy man-eating monster who lives under the bed. He also is not afraid to say the right thing, which Calvin hates, even though he knows deep inside that Hobbes is right. Often the reader can never tell whether Hobbes represents another side of Calvin – an inner voice – or another person, a friend. I think that Hobbes can be either – Calvin”s inner self or another person, just like an angel can be a hidden side of yourself as can as well as a different person.
Abraham and Sarah”s grandson, Jacob, wrestled with an angel by a river all night until the angel dislocated Jacob”s hip joint. Jacob was going to return home. Having stolen his brother”s inheritance by trickery, he had run away for fear of his life. He married foreign women, Rachel and Leah, and settled down in a foreign land tending his father-in-law”s herd. But he found no other place to call home except his own place of birth and decided to go back. He was ready to ask for his brother”s forgiveness and meet the consequences. It might have been a right thing to do but it was a dangerous gamble. It is sort of like Calvin and Hobbes shooting down an untried hill on a toboggan. When Jacob saw his brother ready to meet him with four hundred armed men, naturally he was afraid and distressed. He was suddenly no longer sure whether he was doing the right thing by returning home. He must have struggled with his angel all night by the river looking in fear at his brother”s men. The angel in this case could have been his own conscience but also could have been another person like Hobbes who was trying to help him making up his mind. Jacob would not let the angel go despite his dislocated hip joint until he received a blessing. When one is making a decision, often one is looking for assurance not another opinion. So it was with Jacob; that was why he was determined to get his blessing.
Angels are not gods, they are God”s messengers. Angels bring often terrible but wonderful news. Realities are often scary, but wonderful. It was like the first Christmas. Shepherds were terrified to see the angels. Mary was forced into such a terrible but wonderful predicament by the Holy spirit. But because of the angel”s assurance, she became brave and happy, and sung a song of praises and hope. Helped by the angels, Joseph made a decision the kind that was incredible for men to make. In those stories, angels not only brought the messages from God, but also brought assurance and joy; with lights and joyful sounds of music and singing. You noticed, in many pictures depicting angels, you see them with trumpets and lutes making music.
Last week”s Christmas carols and music are still ringing in our ears. Our musicians and singers, young and not so young, brought magic to our Christmas. They were the magic that brought the spirit of Christmas to us here in Howick. They were the angels for us. And I believe that it was our love for them that made them angels. Seeing angels does not have to be so dramatic. When a meeting is heated up and people are tense, someone brings in tea, juice and cookies. Angry faces disappeared instantly. No one eats cookies with angry faces. An angel brings tea and cookies.
Angels come in many forms and shapes. They can be wise and true friends. Like Hobbes, some angels do not force the correct solutions and are ready to bless whatever you decide. And they are ready to stand by you. When Calvin is in a mood for dare-devil bravado like shooting down an untried hill on a toboggan, Hobbes does not hide his scepticism. Hobbes knows there may be a cliff at the bottom, but he goes through the fall with Calvin and meets the inevitable disaster at the bottom. An angel is ready to suffer the consequences with you. An angel is a true friend. A true friend is an angel.
Like an angel, Hobbes does that sort of thing not because he is reckless but because he is an incurable optimist. And he believes that there will be life after a spectacular fall from a cliff. It was an angel who sat at the entrance of the cave where Jesus was buried and informed the disciples about the resurrection. "He is not here. Don”t look for him among the dead. He is risen!"
An angel informed Joseph of an impending disaster to the babies in Bethlehem, and told him to pack up his family and to seek refuge in Egypt. Joseph was helped by the angels in his mission of protecting and bringing up the Messiah so that Jesus could begin his ministry, when he was ready. The angels help us to also engage in our mission, being our conscience, friend, wisdom, and protector. God does not work alone in this world. God”s deeds are often the collective actions of God, us, and the angels. The world we live in and work in is often as cruel a place as Bethlehem under King Herod. But God”s work does not have to be gloomy and heavy. Angels may lead us down a different path. With them there can be dancing and singing. They will bring music with trumpets and harps. With their help, doing God”s work can be as fun as building a snow castle with Hobbes. And who knows, they may even lend us their wings.