by The Rev. William Cwirla
Readings: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Rev. 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-11
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)
In the Name of Jesus.
With the Lord there is always more. More than we dare ask or expect, more than we deserve, and much more than we can see with our eyes.
Today we rejoice in the angels. The angels remind us of a world that is bigger than we are, dwelling in eternal light, incorporeal yet creaturely, easily gliding between heaven’s eternal kairos and earth’s ticking chronos. Spirit-warriors, guardians, heavenly heralds.
Angels are rarely seen, and when they are, they are not like the prettified angels and chubby cherubs you see depicted on Christmas cards. The first words they utter when seen by men is “Fear not,” and for good reason. Their appearance frightening. It drives grown men to their knees. Should we expect any less from one who would twirl the Dragon from heaven by his tail?
Though there are an innumerable myriad of angels, we know only two by name from the Scriptures - Michael the warrior, the protector of Israel and Gabriel the herald, the preacher of the Incarnation. There are the mysterious seraphim, six-winged fire angels who flutter around the throne of God singing an eternal “Holy, holy, holy” to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there are the cherubim and the countless throngs of heavenly creatures too mysterious for us to comprehend, yet one together with us in worship.
We confess the angels when we confess God as the Maker of all things “visible and invisible.” We human beings are the top of the visibles; the angels are the top of the invisibles. They are stronger than we are, and somewhat higher in the rank of things, though we are the crown of God’s creation. Only Michael and his angels were strong enough to evict the devil and his demons from heaven. But even the angels didn’t do it on their own strength, but on the strength of Christ the Lamb, and His shed blood, and the Word of the Gospel. What gives the angels their strength is the same as what strengthens us: the blood of the Lamb and His Word.
The angels rejoiced on man’s creation day, astounded at the creativity of God that would dare make a creature in His image. The angels rejoice today over the repentance of one sinner who is turned from the lostness of sin and death and found redeemed and restored in the death and resurrection of Jesus. They proclaimed the happy news of Jesus’ conception, His birth, His resurrection. They were on hand for His ascension and welcomed Him to His throne at the right hand of the Father. They will gather the nations together and sort the catch of the resurrection, like fishermen sorting a day’s catch at the seashore or harvesters separating the wheat from the chaff.
Do we still have a place for the angels in our days of Intel processors and iPods and space stations floating in Earth’s orbit? Is there room for the angels in our skeptical age that believes nothing that cannot be counted or measured in some way? Are angels nothing more than a child’s fantasy, along with fairy stories and Santa Claus? They are the “more” of faith, opening faith’s imagination to the splendor of the things unseen.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven,” Jesus says. The “little ones” to whom Jesus refers are not children but disciples, those who trust the promises of God’s Word with childlike simplicity of faith. It is not childish to speak of the angels, but childlike, in the way of a little one who trusts and receives. That is the way of faith in Jesus.
The Lord sends His angels to watch over His baptized, believing little ones. Michael the warrior, who hurled the ancient Serpent from heaven by his tail, together with his angelic armies who conquered by the blood of the Lamb, watch over the Lord’s militant Church and all of her little ones. They do the Lord’s bidding, and His bidding is that you should be guarded against the wiles and deceits of the Evil One. You have angels watching over you. “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”
Don’t try to get a bead on the angels, though, lest you irritate them. You wouldn’t want to do that! The angels desire neither your attention nor your worship. Their faces are ever turned toward God, where they would point you as well. For it is not by angels that we are saved from sin and delivered from death, but by the blood of the Lamb once slain who lives, Jesus the crucified and risen Son of God, who though equal to the Father was made a little lower than the angels in order to rescue us by His death, whom the angels now adore with unending worship praise.
“Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious Name, evermore praising you and saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of heavenly hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” So we sing with the angels in the liturgy, and so they sing with us.
Still let them aid us and still let them fight,
Lord of angelic hosts, battling for right,
Till, where their anthems they ceaselessly pour,
We with the angels may bow and adore.
(Lutheran Service Book #520)