Angels Unaware (4th Advent Sunday)

Luke 1:26-38 And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.” And Mary said to the angel: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” And the angel answering,” said to her: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God.” And Mary said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. We lit the Angel’s candle. Now we often think of Angels as these mysterious beings that sneak in and out of scripture doing odd jobs here and there for the Lord. But let’s also remember what the Apostle tells us: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unaware.” 

This candle today is to commemorate all those angels who conspired to give the good news to God’s people. Not just when Jesus was born in the manger, but before that too: we read today about the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary she’ll conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  

The angels’ activities go further back than this too. Gabriel makes another appearance in scripture – he makes 4 in all – long before then, when he appears to Daniel in the 5th century BC, to tell him about the Advent of Christ and the coming of His Kingdom! 

Gabriel means “God is my power.” Gabriel also goes to Mary’s cousin-in-law Zacharias to tell him that he and his wife will soon be expecting – the baby John the Baptist.  Zacharias is a bit skeptical, and even scared, but the angel says, “I am Gabriel, and I stand in the presence of God. God sent me speak with you, and to give you good news.” 

Now that’s service. The Apostle says: 

“Are not the angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”  

That they are. Look no further than these visitations for proof positive.  

But wait, don’t angels also bring news of doom and gloom? Don’t angels rain down fire and brimstone over Sodom and Gomorrah? Isn’t it angels that pour out the bowls of wrath in the book of John the Revelator?  

Yes, it’s angels all right. But remember Sodom & Gomorrah – these angels were sent to destroy a wicked city that harmed God’s people. Abraham was warned because he was favored by God, and also for Abraham’s sake, Lot and his family were saved. It was doom and gloom and fire and brimstone for those who would harm the innocent, and oppress those who put their faith in God. But it was salvation for those faithful people of God who groaned under the heavy oppression, and who longed for deliverance and vindication for their suffering.  

In all of these things, the angels were sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. 

Isn’t it even the same in the book of Revelation? Revelation is filled with angels. They’re singing to God. They’re making announcements. Blowing trumpets. Pouring out bowls of wrath.  

Who remembers the first angel in the book of Revelation? It’s the one who is telling the whole story to John. It’s right there at the very beginning: “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon come to pass. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John.” 

So while it might seem like bad optics to see angels pouring out wrath over the earth, the people of God wouldn’t even know about it if it weren’t for the angel sharing the intelligence. And just like in Sodom & Gomorrah, that wrath isn’t for nothing – it’s to vindicate God’s people, especially God’s martyrs who are suffering. It’s God’s way of showing all humanity “If you touch one hair on the head of my people, I’m going to make sure the only thing that people remember of you is that I erased every trace of your existence because of it!” 

In every case, the angels are sent by God to minister to those whom God wishes to save. Angels are high-clearance military intelligence officers in God’s kingdom administration, and they’re charged with God’s rescue missions for his people. For you! 

Have you ever been going about your day when all of a sudden you get a funny feeling you can’t shake? Once, my mother and my sister were running some errands, and my mom got a funny feeling as they were driving toward the bank. Without knowing why, she just kept on driving past it and said, “Hey, maybe let’s go to the supermarket first.”  

After they went to the supermarket, they headed back to the bank only to find it swarming with police. It turns out, there had just been an armed bank robbery. That wasn’t just a feeling my mom had – that was one of God’s high-clearance military intelligence officers tipping off my mom saying, “Do not go in there!” 

My mom was entertaining whispering angels unaware. And I don’t think it’s just female or motherly intuition. 

We’ve all heard stories like this. You’ve probably had an experience like this. Once, during a heavy summer storm, I was pulling up to my parent’s house to park out in front on the road. For no reason at all, after I parked, I decided to just put it back in drive and pull up just a few feet forward.  

As soon as I did that, a massive branch crashed through my rear windshield that would have smashed over the front windshield onto me, if I hadn’t moved for just no reason at all. It was a heavy branch – I’m talking a big ole mainland branch from a big ole mainland tree, not like these wimpy Island trees! This thing probably shopped at Men’s Big and Tall. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t pulled up just a few feet. I’d probably have worse things to worry about than whether my insurance would cover it. 

I don’t know why I did what I did – I don’t even know if I could say I had a funny feeling. I just know someone was looking out for me. I was entertaining an angel unaware. 

Now I like to think that I have good intuition. But I don’t think that accounts for it all. But I think I know what does. Or who does – it’s God. 

When God wants to save you, he’s not going to send you help that you’re just going to somehow miss if you don’t have great intuition. God “desires that all people be saved” – He isn’t going to save you from something you can save yourself from, because if you can save yourself from it, you don’t need to be saved.  

But in the hour of real trouble, “’I am with you and I will save you,’ declares the LORD.” He “delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders”. When the chances are slim, He beats the chances. If it’s impossible with man, it’s possible with God. 

You might not think you’ve been saved from anything before – I say that’s poppycock. Your mama and daddy have saved you from more things than you can count before you even know how to talk, because you didn’t know what was going on. Maybe now that you’re grown, you have the level of knowledge your mama and daddy did – but do you know what your Father in heaven knows? No way!  

God made you, he knows you better than you know yourself  – if we, who don’t know ourselves as good as God does, think we haven’t ever been saved by God before – and we can’t even see behind our own heads – who are we kidding?  

As for me, I will praise the Lord who has saved me more times than I will ever know in this life, and who made me more times than I will ever know to entertain, and to be saved by, angels unaware. 

*** 

So how is it that angels can whisper into your life even if you’re not that good at hearing? What are we to believe, or how are we to believe, if we’re gonna believe that God’s high clearance military intelligence operators are standing by to help us on our path to salvation? 

Ever heard of the Apostle’s Creed? It’s the earliest Creed of the church, before the Nicene creed and definitely before the Official Creed of the American Baptist Association! Before there were Catholics or Coptics or Chalcedonians, there was one church, and this was the creed. It was pretty short and sweet. Let’s say the whole thing: 

I believe in God, the Father almighty, 

 creator of heaven and earth. 

 I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 

 He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit 

 and born of the virgin Mary. 

 He suffered under Pontius Pilate, 

 was crucified, died, and was buried. 

 He descended to the dead. 

 On the third day he rose again. 

 He ascended into heaven, 

 and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 

 He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

 I believe in the Holy Spirit, 

 the holy catholic Church, 

 the communion of the saints, 

 the forgiveness of sins, 

 the resurrection of the body, 

 and the life everlasting. Amen. 

Now, which of these lines tells us how an angel might come into our life – how we might commune with an angel, shall we say? “The communion of saints.”  

Now think about this: these old school Christians in the 1st century, our forefathers of the faith, what did they call God’s people who had gone to glory in heaven? Saints. Saint Mary, Saint Peter, Saint John, Saint James.  

Ok – and what did they call the angels? Saints. Saint Gabriel, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Raphael the Archangel. Etc. The saints are not just people – the saints are all those who belong to God. I believe that’s why “the communion of saints” follows after “the church”, the Body of Christ, in the order of the creed – because our communion with the angels and saints flows out of our communion with Christ – we are all one in Him, as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper. 

We here on earth are in communion with heavenly beings through our Lord Jesus Christ. “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” 

Friends, if you should ever become convinced that the life you’re living is mundane, or that the world you’re living in is dull, then take heart: your life can never be mundane, because Christ the Son of God is living His life through you – that’s the mystery of the communion of the saints; the world you’re living in can never be dull, because it is illuminated by the brilliant light of the world – the world is filled with the “wonders of His love”, not the least of which is the loving communion of saints.  

If you can see through the eyes of the spirit, you’ll see a vibrant world beyond your wildest dreams, populated with more than just flesh and blood, but spirits made perfect, angels that are like the winds, and servants that are like flames of fire. Just look with eyes of faith and belief. 

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. “Are not the angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” You are entertaining angels unaware, because you are the inheritor of salvation. Never doubt your great salvation: “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!” 

So with this Angels’ Candle lit, let’s remember all of the times God has sent His ministering spirits to serve us, and thank the Lord for the gift of salvation which He has given us.  

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