In all of the Christmas story, angels figure prominently.
And we’re not talking about “Hallmark” angels – you know, the beatific, cute cherubs with halos and wings and white flowing gowns that were all the rage some years ago.
The word “angel” from the Greek, means basically: “messenger of God”, and, I think, can refer not only to heavenly beings praising and worshipping God as described in Scripture, but also, anyone on earth, who brings, or conveys to us something of God: a message, a nudge, an inspiration.
A passenger sitting beside us on an airplane, who calms our nerves and fear of flying, through light-hearted and good conversation… is an angel. I wouldn’t hesitate an instant saying to that person: “You’re an angel!”
It was interesting how the producer Mark Burnett of the TV miniseries “The Bible”, which aired last spring, portrayed the angel Gabriel appearing before Mary, to announce that Mary would give birth to Jesus.
There are no misty rays of light, no shimmering, bright white figures coming through solid walls or locked doors, no deep, booming voice resounding from the heavens. No.
The angel Gabriel appears as an ordinary, Roman soldier, who calmly and non-threateningly approaches Mary with this amazing message, or announcement, from God. Judging from appearances, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between this “angel”, and any other human being.
In such a way, do God’s angels move among us.
In my view, we all, at one point or another, can function like “angels”: conveying something of the goodness of God through our words or actions to the world around us.
In the Gospel reading today, we have lots of angelic activity.
If it weren’t for the “angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream”, the baby Jesus and the Holy Family would’ve most certainly perished by the murderous hand of Herod.
Just in time, the angel intervenes and tells Joseph to escape with Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt, and then, after evil King Herod dies, the angel once again, in a dream, assures that it is safe to return to Israel, and to settle in the town Nazareth.
Angels and dreams. This is the stuff of mystic realm. The stuff of the mysterious beyond with which we modern, rational people don’t always feel too comfortable.
But before we too quickly pooh-pooh the nether-regions of the mystic realm, we need to remember that all of us, all humans, are built in such a way, as to have the capacity for wonderment, the inclination to stand in awe of, and to be moved deeply by the mystery, beauty and unspeakable amazement of the world around us, the “things we cannot understand”, matters beyond the scope and grasp of our rational minds.
We’re “hard-wired” to yearn for and seek God. It’s in our DNA. St. Augustine in the 4th century said: “All are restless, until they rest in God.”
This restlessness comes from that deep hunger in each one of us, to reach beyond our tangible, material world.
Scientists have mapped out the human brain, to the extent they can, and have begun to see how the left side of the brain operates in a way that’s different than the right side.
The left side of the brain is the logical-thinking side.
It will analyse, calculate, theorize, and apply rational intelligence to whatever is happening.
The right side, in contrast, will tap into wonderment, awe, and the artistic beauty of something.
It’s receptive to the more ethereal, mystical realities of love, appreciation, the goodness of mutual harmony, co-operation.
Take a sunset.
Left-side, analytical brain will think about the spectra of light, will ponder refraction, and conceptualize the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun.
Right-side brain will look at the exact same sunset, and will ponder the unspeakable beauty of the sunset, and will contemplate things like: the ending of the day, finality, rest, completion, shalom, God’s steadfast love, and harmony in human community.
Both left-side and right-side thinking are valid, legitimate ways we as humans appropriate reality.
The Gospel reading today is very “right-side brain”, not only because of its dealing with the inexplicable mysteries of angels and dreams, but also because of the awful reality of suffering, a reality of life we’re often unable to fathom, explain, or put any sense to.
We, so horribly see displayed, the merciless brutality of King Herod, who slays all children under two years of age in Bethlehem, in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of baby Jesus.
At this, we can do nothing more than weep.
We remember the “Holy Innocents” killed be Herod, and remember and grieve for all innocent children and adults killed through the ages.
We’ve just passed the one year mark since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
These are tragic, inexplicable, irrational realities of life, leaving us spent, drained, and in tears.
Tears can fall at this time of year, even more so than at any other time.
Eric Clapton has a song, which says: “It’s Christmas time, but it’s raining in my heart.”
Tears can fall this time of year for a number of different reasons:
…a touching memory,
…an aching loss,
… a response of gratefulness,
…a painful encounter.
Tears fall, not only because of deep sorrow, but also deep joy, deep gratitude for the precious gift of life, and of another day, of friendships strong and secure.
Sorrow and joy – two sides of the same coin. I’ve often witnessed this at funerals, where as the memory of a loved one is lifted up, at one point, tears of sorrow are falling. And then, only minutes later, tears of joy are falling, because of feelings of gratitude and love.
Sorrow and joy bringing tears – this is the stuff of holiness, mystery, the unknown, that which cannot be rationally, logically explained.
The Spiritual Masters of Old have said that tears are “windows to the divine”; that it is only when we feel deeply, and shed a tear, that something of God touches, and heals us.
As we move through this Christmas season towards the start of a new year, as we experience and feel all that we do inside of us, my hope and prayer is that we may come to know something of the steadfast love of God; God who promises to be right there with us, opening to us a window on a new world, a good future, and a new fresh start.