Entertaining angels

Angles don't just appear in Bible stories.  They can appear, anytime, anywhere.  All we need to do is stop and listen.

Full Text: 

Entertaining angels

December 24, 2015 – Luke 2:1-20

 

            Have you ever encountered an angel?  I don’t mean the kind you see in Renaissance paintings – with fluffy wings and long white robes and faces with haloes.  I also don’t mean the kind you see in the movies, like Clarence – the older man in the rumpled suit who says he is George Bailey’s guardian angel in, “It’s a wonderful life.”

I mean an angel – an ‘angelos.’  In the Greek, it means, ‘messenger.’  An angel is simply a messenger from God.

            Such a messenger may be indistinguishable for anyone around them. They may even be somewhat off-putting.  Our first reaction may be to turn away or to ignore them.  But then they open their mouths and something comes out that grabs our attention – not because they are singing beautiful music, but because they are announcing good news.

            That news might be one of a thousand things, but in the end it is something amazing, something that leaves you wondering if, despite all evidence to the contrary, God is still present and active in the world.

 

            When they encountered an angel, the shepherds out in the fields probably wanted to turn away.  They couldn’t, so they fell to the ground on their faces.  For this was no ordinary angel, but an angel of the Lord.  The angel appeared suddenly out of nowhere, blazing with light. 

“Do not be afraid,” said the angel.  “I am here to tell you about something wonderful that God is doing and which will bring joy to everyone, everywhere!  Today in the city of David – a Savior is born!  He is Jesus the Messiah!  This is what to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

All at once the sky was filled with angels, all of them singing God’s praises –

Glory to God in the highest; and peace to God’s people on earth!

Then, as soon as they had come, they were gone.

            The shepherds turned to one another and said, “This we’ve got to see!”  So, off they ran to Bethlehem.  There they found Mary and Joseph and – just as the angels said – the child, wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.

            Then, I believe, the shepherds became the angels – not because they sprouted wings or began to levitate – far from it.  They still remained very much shepherds.  They told everyone the good news about this child.  Mary already knew.  She held the words in her heart.  But everyone else was left amazed and wondering.

            Then, as suddenly as they had come, the shepherds disappeared and went back to their work.

 

            I had an encounter with an angel not long ago.  As many of you know, I serve as a night chaplain at Meriter Hospital.  One night each month, I stay at the hospital and serve as the on-call chaplain, visiting patients and responding to various emergencies.

            Early in the evening, I was paged to the Emergency Room.  The page said it was for a Level II trauma.  That category covers such things as people who have been injured in accidents, taken a fall, or gotten in a fight.  It doesn’t mean that the person’s life is in danger.  The chaplain is simply there to offer support to the patient or to the family.  Still, I was surprised when I stepped into the room to which I’d been paged and a weary looking nurse came up to me and said, “You don’t need to be here.”

            The man on the bed was rough looking.  It was not only his long side burns and the tattered work shirt and jeans and the tattoos up and down the arms.  His skin was brown and withered as if he spent much of his time outdoors under the sun.

            The medical staff did their initial examinations.  The doctor ordered tests and departed.  Then, despite the nurse’s advice, I sat down next to the patient.  As he talked, I learned that, after putting in a day’s work, the man had gone home, drunk a six-pack of beer and gotten into a fight with his wife.  He was groggy and upset.  He complained about how hard he worked to support his wife and children.  He grumbled about how ungrateful his wife was.  Other details including those of exactly how he got hurt were muddy, given the state of his mind. 

            The man kept saying he was okay and wanted to go home.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen soon.  The staff needed to make sure he was indeed okay.  It might be more than bruised ribs.  He had also taken a knock on the head.  And there were two police officers seated outside the room.  I wondered if the nurse had been right.

            As I sat there, I received another page.  When the patient in front of me asked to use the phone, the nurse brought it to him and I used the moment to excuse myself to check on the next page.

Depending on how the rest of my night went, I didn’t know if I’d be returning.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to return.  But, after an hour or so, I did.  The Level II patient was still there.  The results of his CT scan had not come through.  The police officers were still present. 

The man seemed clearer-headed now.  I sat down next to him again.  When I did, he started telling me about his strong faith.  He told me of his relationship with the Father.  He even said the Father had spoken to him.  And he began to smile.

            Then he pulled up his shirt and showed me the scars from his seven stab wounds.  He said those wounds had put him in a coma for three weeks.  That’s when the Father appeared to him.  He no longer had any fear, he said.  Now he wasn’t even afraid of death.  He continued to beam with peace and with joy.

Then he quoted scripture to me:

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them…

It wasn’t quite word for word, the way he quoted it, but he knew the citation – Hebrews 13.  And he went on to speak passionately about the importance of loving each other, even of loving strangers.  He gave me a huge, beatific smile.

            It was a strange picture, I thought.  He seemed so rough, almost crude.  He had gotten in a fight after he had been drinking – and he confessed to me that he drank every day.  He swore several times – and each time immediately apologized to me.  He is not someone I would ever expect to darken the door of a church.  Yet, his faith seemed nearly sublime.

At length, the moment seemed to pass.  He wondered if his CT scan results were ready.  And he wanted to use the phone again.  I left the man alone.  I didn’t know if I would see the man again.  I didn’t know what other pages were awaiting me that night.  But I knew that there had been a reason for me to be there – if not for him, then for me.

 

            Have you ever encountered an angel?  If you haven’t, I hope you will soon.  Don’t look for fluffy wings, though.  Don’t wait for an angel to appear in a blaze of light.  And don’t be surprised if your first reaction is to turn away, rather than fall on your face in fear.

            Do your best, though, to keep your eyes and ears open.  I know that’s hard with everything on your mind – all the demands of daily life, all the things that are shouting for your attention, and all the concerns you have about the world.  Despite this, stay on the watch.

            Because the angel that comes to you may very well be someone who surprises you.  Not only that, it may very well be news that surprises you.  So, be on your watch and be ready to be amazed at the announcement of what God is doing.  Because, despite the darkness of the world, God is still present and active, seeking to bring joy to all people!