16 December 2021

Faith Matters - Angels

Article by Mr Brendan Nichols

Faith Matters - Angels

Advent is an exciting time, as there is so much joyful anticipation. There is no secret about Christmas, we all know, Jesus is coming! The birth of Jesus was never really a secret, it was proclaimed by Isaiah more than half a century before he was born in the stable. Mary also knew he was coming; an angel told her so. Angels are God’s messengers. They are all around and always around. We need to be observant for lest we miss an important announcement. Because angels are real time messengers they leave no voicemail or text message. Be alert this Advent as at this time of the year they are everywhere!

We believe that Jesus was born because of Mary’s faithful response to God. The archangel Gabriel announced God’s plan. There was no secret. What we learn from Jesus is all we need to know but how to be truly human. Our God was born in a stable. He was not born in a house or a palace. He was not laid upon expensive bedding and watched over by nurses. Our God was born in the most humble of circumstances, watched over by farm animals and his loving parents.

So angels appeared again soon after Jesus’ birth. Appearing to shepherds and telling them of the greatest of things; the Messiah has come. Shepherds are often very practical and according to this stereotype they wandered over to the stable in Bethlehem to have a look. Sure enough there he was! Unbelievable. Our God is ingenious. In revealing Himself to the shepherd he again turns the world upside down. Shepherds were outcasts who lived in the fields and were valued less than the sheep they protected.

Christmas carols are full of angels. They are a central component of many traditional songs. Advent seems to be a ‘thin time’. A time where the distance between God and humans is less than is normal. During the festive season we encounter so many people as we ‘catch up’ before the big day. We are excited and positive about the end of the year and the coming of Christmas that we are more aware of what is occurring and what we are preparing for. We also notice the kindness of others who reach out and connect in ways that they do not during the rest of the year. In encountering so many people we are even more likely to encounter an angel who can lead us deeper into the love that moves so strongly through our world during Advent.

The Jesuits certainly observed God carefully and have mirrored his repetition and patience in their pedagogical approach. Over and over again God has sent his angels to proclaim a message that we fail to notice or respond to. It seems that the people who are rejected by society or lower down the social hierarchy take notice and respond. How many times have we encountered an angel and not noticed!

Abraham and Sarah encountered angels and did not know it. But in welcoming the stranger and thus upholding the Covenant they were blessed with a child. Maybe we can learn a little from this encounter during our interactions over Advent. I’m not suggesting a formula, our God is not like a genie, but it’s amazing how things seem to turn out right when we walk closely with God. Who can you welcome this Advent that you may neglect? Consider who you may not have noticed or welcomed in. Maybe they are the angel that God has sent with a particular message for you.

I remember fondly a TV show that was on in the 1980’s called 'Highway to Heaven'. This show was quite wonderful in its underlying message of love, dignity and humility. I remember as a young boy wanting to be just like Michael Landon who played a probationary angel who was sent to Earth to help people. I’m not sure I've got it right and I certainly was not blessed with his phenomenal hair. But one thing I think I learnt is that I’m quite good at spotting angels.

During Advent and Christmas time I see angels everywhere. So many blessed people sharing God’s message of love, acceptance, forgiveness, tolerance and happiness. Each one an angel sharing a message from God that has the power to transform; if only if they notice who the messenger is. At this time of the year we can find Jesus exactly where the angels said he would be – in a lowly place. As Christmas draws near consider how you, like the shepherds, go to those who live in difficult circumstances and celebrate them. Bring joy to the outcasts and the downtrodden. Our God is there. He knows what it is to be rejected and in need. You have the power to reach out and change the story.

Whether you become an angel for someone else or they become an angel to you during Advent, be sure to keep your eyes open and expect a message from our Lord over the next few weeks. I know you will encounter that angel in the least likely place; often right in front of you.

Eyes peeled, I wish you a joyous and Holy festive season.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator