(Alan McIntosh reflects on the influence of Angels in Christian faith)
In 1979 the popular Swedish pop group, ABBA, released a song called: ‘I Have A Dream.’ The Chorus lyric is:
I believe in angels; something good in everything I see.
I believe in angels when I know the time is right for me;
I’ll cross the stream; I have a dream.
At this Advent and Christmas season both the Christian and secular world are blessed by a multitude of angels. They adorn our Christmas trees, have star parts in Nativity dramas and are printed on our Christmas cards from famous Angel paintings by Rembrandt, Chagall and other artists.
But who are the Angels and should we follow Abba’s advice by believing in their existence? The term ‘Angel’ derives from the Latin ‘angelus’ meaning ‘messenger.’ From the Old Testament writings onwards angels were deemed to be non-physical entities or spirits, able to shape-shift by taking human form. They were either portrayed as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God or Heaven and Earth, or as guardian spirits or guiding influences.
Other roles of angels included protecting and guiding human beings and carrying out God’s tasks. The biblical angels did not have large feathered wings or glowing halos although they dismayed witnesses with their dazzling light and spiritual energy.
Three angels are named in the Old Testament: Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. Two Psalms helped early Christians to perceive the nature of angels. In Psalm 8 the author declares: ‘You have made him (man) a little less than the angels…’ Christians believed that angels are created beings by God, but of a different order: (Psalm 148) ‘Praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all ye angels…for He spoke and they were made.’
Genesis, an early Old Testament book, records many angelic interventions in God’s service. The angel of Yahweh meets Hagar and instructs her to bear a child (Gen: 16.7-11). Two angels whom Lot befriends with hospitality save him and his family from the destruction of Sodom. (Gen: 19.1-26)
Angels abound in the New Testament Scriptures. This is especially the case with the infancy narratives of Jesus, with the mission and ministry of Christ and with the apocalyptic literature such as the Book of Revelation. The Gospel Evangelists portray angels as representing the cosmic forces that come together in Jesus and that he employs for the good of the people. One of my favourite encounters between Jesus and the angels is Matthew’s account of the Temptation in the Wilderness. After Jesus has fallen in exhaustion after withstanding Satan’s three temptations we are told: ‘the Devil left him and angels appeared and ministered to him.’ (Matt 4: 1-11)
Paul mentions the nine choirs of angels or heavenly spirits, He emphasises how Christ holds power over the angels and all spiritual powers. The good news for Paul is that the Universe is essentially benign in all its aspects. Evil spirits can never triumph over the power off the love of Christ. As the Abba song declares: ‘I believe in angels, something good in everything I see.’
The concept of one’s own personal Guardian angel has valid testimony from the Bible in which angels are often saving persons from danger or evil powers. Both the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church faith has especially attested to Guardian Angels as real intermediary beings. Pope Francis in 2014 told those gathered for daily mass to be like children to pay attention to their ‘travelling companion.’ No one journeys alone (because of the angels).
Most modern bookshops have an entire section devoted to books about angels. Glenyce S. Eckersley has collected witness reports of personal encounters with angels from all around the world. She notes that, ’Hunger grows to know more about these mysterious beings of light, bringers of comfort.’
Belief in angels is not some esoteric new age cult therefore but has biblical authority. Angels shine their light of blessing in many of the scriptures. They return in every generation throughout time and space to bring people back to God. In this seemingly dark time of numerous wars, financial greed and reckless treatment of God’s beautiful created world it is a comforting thought to believe that our angels watch over us, protect us and our loved ones as God’s intercessors.
We can indeed dare, because of the innumerable host of angelic presences, to find something good in everything we see. That is a joyful message for us to receive as a gift this coming Advent and Christmas.