Anemic Angels are not for me.
I have noted, to my distress, that our home Nativity Set lacks an angel. It’s an artistic set, very pretty and there are some angels drawn onto the other characters. But there’s no stand-alone, in your face, announcing the Good News, scaring the shepherds kind of angel! Even as a child, our nativity set had an angel. The angel was lovely and gentle, arms spread over the scene with flowing robes and the wings of a dove. Granted, I wasn’t there in Bethlehem. I can’t speak to the actual appearance of the Heavenly Host. But from all accounts, they were unsettling, to say the least.
So I went looking for angels. I looked online for images for this post. I found cute angels, sweet angels, fat angels, funny angels, angels meant to look sexy, fairy-like angels, evil-appearing angels, Manga angels and all manner of others. (I had to look for Medieval Angels and Archangels to find the one above.)
I’ve checked book stores and card shops and all the rest. What I’ve found has been, well, boring. If one of the angels I’ve seen in stores had been posted with a flaming sword outside the Garden of Eden, we’d all still be there. Adam could have chased that angel off by throwing rocks, or yelling loudly. ‘And don’t come back, either!’
(See what I mean?)
If the angels we see in modern pictures and nativities bear any semblance to reality, they would not have blinded the wicked men of Sodom, but have brought them soothing cups of tea. The anemic, tender angels I find in stores would not say to the shepherds, ‘Fear not,’ but rather, ‘pardon me, I don’t mean to be a bother, but down yonder is the Son of God. Go ye and see Him, if it isn’t too much trouble.’ Instead of ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!’ Our sweet angels might not have warned Joseph to flee Herod, or have guided Hagar and Ishmael in the desert to water. (They’d hate to get involved in politics or family feuds, but they’d bake cookies and call the authorities.)
The Bible’s angels are ‘a flaming fire,’ ministering spirits, and protectors; powerful players, some of whom, the Bible says, rebelled against God and ‘lost their first estate’ and will be consigned to eternal punishment for that act. They waged war in heaven, and those of us who are believers are convinced it continues to this day, led by Satan, once the most beautiful angel. Cherubs? Not so much. Dogs or cats with wings? Not hardly.
Angels guard us for God, though we are instructed not to worship them, for they are created like we are. God ‘gives his angels charge of thee, to protect thee in all thy ways.’ They bring good news, about other births, like those of Isaac and John. They told Mary Magdalene about the resurrection. They comfort believers. The angels fought battles and delivered messages to the saints and patriarchs, and gave the Law to Moses. Angels shut the mouths of lions and will, we are told, announce the return of Christ and stand around the throne of the King one day.
I guess that’s why I can’t find an angel that suits me. It would have to scare me a bit. ‘Yes sir, I think I have such an angel for your nativity. But it’s large, and seems to inadvertently burn things. And the last person that opened the box ran out and never came back. It’s bright and a little loud and tends to sing songs of praise at all hours. Although, I’ll admit, we do feel happier with it in the store; even if it seems a bit dangerous.’
That’s the angel I want. But then, that’s the faith I want. I don’t want a faith of milquetoast saints and weepy eyed angels, of endlessly apologetic and fearful believers or uncertain clergy who can’t make declarative statements. I want a faith that is so overwhelmingly good and hopeful that it turns all of our darkest horror-movie images of evil into little more than cockroaches in the corner. I want a faith where the fiery servants of God don’t have to negotiate with evil, or run from it, but laugh in its face.
I try to imagine, sometimes, the opposite of a horror movie. A movie so infused with the love and creativity and power of God that it is almost frightening. A movie where, if evil appear, it is shown for what it is. Small, transient, inadequate, temporal. A movie where angels, my kind of angels, are what they are meant to be. Emissaries of good and light and mercy and justice and judgment. Who, for all their power, bow before the Great King of Glory who comes in the end. A movie in which every dark places is opened up to light and every cruel act is ended and every injustice is righted and every loss corrected. An ending that makes the ending of all the best stories seem inadequate in its grandeur.
But then, Christmas is the trailer, in a way. And perhaps, Easter is another (even better) trailer. Both show us a good so vast and so magnificent that we can barely imagine. One day, goodness will erupt. I believe I will see angels, in this life or the next. I believe that I will see things so incredible that they will be the best kind of frightening, the most wonderful kind of terrifying, the most hopeful kind of overwhelming. That the pit of the stomach, sweating hands, eyes wide kind of feeling I had over bad things will finally come over the ultimate good; it was a feeling stolen by the enemy for a while, you see. When it happens, I’ll know deep inside that bad is finished.
It won’t be awful. It will be awe full. And I suspect there isn’t a work of art that fully expresses it.
I hope you have a very, Merry Christmas. And that you ponder the numinous, marvelous terror of seeing angels and that magnificent wonder of knowing, as the witnesses to the birth of Jesus did, that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it’ (John 1:5).
May angels guard you fiercely, now and always, and preserve you till that great day.
PS. Here are some verses on angels if you’re interested. Not exhaustive, but interesting.