December 1, 2018

Peaceful Intruders

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  (Luke 2)

Who knows the last time you brushed passed an attendant of the Almighty.

According to the long-winded preacher in Hebrews (13:2) in your New Testament, it could have happened on Tuesday, on the way out of the Post Office. Then again, that may have just been your local interloper.  Whoever it was, Hebrews says: "Be nice.  Could be an angel on the loose."

Tis the season for intruding divine agents, like when Christmastime Joe is awoken in the middle of the night to the news of a paternal custody hearing (Matthew 1). He gets a nocturnal visitor.  No, not the Lunesta butterfly; middle-aged Joseph gets a dream.  And an angel.  And a word from the Lord.  “Wake up, fella.  Time to be a daddy.”

Adolescent Mary gets a visit, too (Luke 1).  That encounter always makes me chuckle: “… sent by God, to a town called Nazareth.”  Really?  Backwater Nazareth? I can see evanescent Gabriel trying to type N-A-Z- into his loaner GPS.  It blurts back, in a soothing British tongue, “Unknown destination.”  Indeed.  Who knew the Divine Word would be carried through gestation in a commoner’s womb?  She’s a nobody, this girl -- at least by the world's expectations.  The mandate from heaven: “Go surprise her, Gabe. I am doing a new thing.”

They’ve got a quite a list of clients on their website, these meddlesome messengers:  Cast off Hagar, down by the water (Gen 16).  Old man Abraham, with his PG-13 knife in the air (Gen 22).  Used-car-dealer Jacob, in a fuzzy stupor (Gen 31).  And of course, who can forget the canon’s best-known ass: ridden by Balaam, who is greeted by an angel from the side of the road (Numbers 22).  They all add the same comment on Facebook’s official Angel page: “Watch out, people.  You just never know what a day will bring. They come out of nowhere! OMG.”

They appear.  They hover.  They greet.  They intrude.  They show up by streams, in byways, or in the cursed middle of the night.  They even have an auxiliary unit that sings and dances and puts on quite a Sunday show (Isaiah 6). (But who cares for that contemporary music, anyway?  I prefer the standard old hymns, thank you.)

My favorite of all the angelic interruptions?  This one: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  Even a third-shift trick of no-name shepherds gets an impromptu flash-mob in the sky, on the dodgy outskirts of Bethlehem.  The choral anthem they sing turns out to be no less than the news that the glory that already floods God’s space (heaven) will now be spilling over into our space (earth) in the form of a lasting shalom, i.e. a goodness and grace that will not fade even after the holiday rush is over.  And its (his) name is Jesus.  So sings the Newsboys, a band from Austrailia:

Entertaining angels
By the light of my t.v. screen
24-7 you wait for me
Entertaining angels
While the night becomes history
Host of heaven, sing over me

Angels.  Everywhere.  Speaking.  Surprising.  Summoning. I like that God is into a great deal of subcontracting when it comes to handing out messages.  That’s good for the economy, in these uncertain times.  And it means some group of them might just show up on your back stoop.

So watch your step on the 24th night of this Advent month, when, home from the Candlelight Service, just after dark, bedecked in last year’s Christmas-gifted bathrobe, just before heading to bed, you wheel out the trash can from under the back porch, and strewn across the crisp night middle-Georgia-sky over your neighbor’s yard, high above his crumbling tool shed and the wife’s composting garden, there is in the lower atmosphere a merry band of supernal beings, warming up with pitch pipes for the big revelatory number, carolling a new song from heaven, complete with a personalized summons to send you packing in a whole new direction in what remains of your gifted life, and all in the name of Jesus.

When and if this happens, don’t say I didn’t warn you (Luke 2).  And maybe you already have your own tale to tell of peaceful intruders.

Either way, be at peace. God still speaks.

O Christ, our Living Lord, made known to us in the humor of scripture’s stories and in the holiness of the incarnation, we welcome your word of peace and likewise pray for more of it around the world in our own day and time.  We are honored to bear your name, and grateful once again to celebrate your remarkable advent among us as a lowly child.  Send your angels to your church once again, that we might sing and sign your news.  Amen.