Angels are everywhere this time of year. That is to say – depictions of angels are everywhere. Where angels actually exist in our earthly realm is not generally known to us. I think if we did know, we’d be in awe at how many there are, and how much a part of our lives they are.
There’s a curious thing about the depictions of Christmas angels in popular culture compared to angels in the Bible. In popular culture, they almost always appear as female. People refer to them as “she” and “her”, as in “Look at the angel on top of the tree! Isn’t she pretty!”, but angels in the Bible are all decidedly male, or at least male-like. Maybe angels are considered female because their unearthly beauty is, to our minds, more indicative of female beauty, or because we’ve never seen an angel with a beard or mustache. Or maybe their long shimmering robes just remind us of female dresses.
Whatever the reason for presenting angels as females, the popular notion of angels is mostly fiction. Yes, God’s holy angels have a beauty far above and beyond earthly beauty, being perfected creatures and therefore perfect in beauty as in everything else, but they don’t usually appear to us in their perfected form. When they do, they tend to overwhelm us and leave us grovelling on our faces before them, partly in shock, partly in fear, and partly in wonder. We even have to be told “Fear not!”, such an awe-inspiring impression they make.
When God’s holy angels come to us in their perfected form, they are fully resplendent with God’s Spirit, which gives them the characteristic bright glow that is often represented artistically as wings and a halo. But God’s holy angels don’t actually have wings and halos. God made us in his image and angels are “sons of God”, also made in his image, so if we don’t have wings and a halo (because God doesn’t have wings and a halo), then neither do God’s holy angels have wings and a halo.
The angels of the Lord are firmly on our side. God sends them in various forms to guide us, warn us, encourage us, and protect us. As much as they love us (and they do) and are our friends in the truest sense of the word, we should never call on them for help or favours. Jesus showed us not to call on angels but to call on God, who will then send his holy angels if the situation warrants it. Again – we are never to call on angels, not through prayers or symbols or any other means. If we need help, we’re to call on God, and he will send whoever or whatever is most expedient.
Like angelic depictions today at Christmas time, angels are all over the Christmas story. One year before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, to let him know that his elderly (and up to that point barren) wife would miraculously give birth to a son who would fulfill the role of Elijah, the prophesied herald of the Messiah. A few months later, Gabriel also appeared to Mary to give her the good news that she would miraculously bear the Messiah, while another angel was sent to Joseph shortly after that to assure him that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle from God and so not to divorce her. An angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in the field on the night of Jesus’ birth to let them know that the Messiah had been born, after which innumerable angels also appeared singing praises and glory to God. Then, sometime after Jesus’ birth, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to warn him to take Mary and Jesus and leave immediately for Egypt, just before Herod called for the slaughter of young children.
Imagine the Christmas story without God’s angels. Zacharias wouldn’t have known about the important role his son was to play in the redemption of mankind; Mary wouldn’t have known that her pregnancy was from God (and neither would Joseph have known, so he might have divorced her); the shepherds wouldn’t have known about the birth of the long-awaited Messiah; and Joseph wouldn’t have been warned to flee to Egypt. The Christmas story without God’s holy angels would be nearly as unimaginable as the Christmas story without Jesus.
I have seen God’s holy angels, but not in their heavenly form. I did not know at the time that they were angels; it was only after-the-fact that God let me know. Angels attend on us all, with scripture giving us numerous instances of angels ministering to God’s prophets. In fact, ministering to God’s “lesser” creatures is the primary mission of angels, and if Heaven is our reward, we’ll be doing the same.
Jesus told us that, in Heaven, we’ll be like the angels, so it might be a good idea to find out what the angels are actually like. The Bible doesn’t give us much to go on. However, if we dig deep in scripture, we can connect enough dots at least to get an inkling of the joy that awaits us if and when we make it to Heaven and, like God’s holy angels, become perfected in body and soul.