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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

We’re All Angels!

Fourth Sunday in Advent

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

In October of 1942, early in World War II, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and the crew of their B-17 were lost at sea. On their way to General MacArthur in New Guinea, their Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Running out of fuel, they “ditched” the plane in the South Pacific. The B-17 stayed afloat just long enough for all the men to get out. Then, slowly, the tail of the plane swung up, poised for a split second, and sank – leaving 8 men and 3 rafts… and the horizon.

For nearly a month Captain Rickenbacker and his companions would fight the water, the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was 9 feet. by 5 feet. The biggest shark: 10 feet long.

But of all their enemies at sea, one was the most feared: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred! This is how Captain Rickenbacker told what happened: “Cherry,” that was the B-17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk after, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off. And then something landed on my head! I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew, too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food – if I could catch it.”

He reached up and caught it, all right. And he went on to say, “I killed him and then we divided him equally among us. We ate every bit, even the little bones. Nothing ever tasted so good.” The men were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, hundreds of miles from any land, offered itself as a sacrifice.

They were rescued, of course, and years later Billy Graham asked Rickenbacker to tell him the story personally, because it was through that experience that Rickenbacker received Christ as his Savior. He said, “I have no explanation except that God sent one of His angels to rescue us.”

Angels – we hear a lot about them today: books, magazine articles, TV programs, movies, pins, statues – angels are big right now. And people are telling all kinds of stories that make them wonder, “Was that an angel?”

And in today’s Gospel lesson, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream to tell him that the child which is conceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit, and the Son to be born to her will save people from their sins. That’s big news! That’s what angels are about, isn’t it? Big news – big jobs – special delivery!

What do we really know about angels? Well, we know that they were around at the beginning of time. They watched God make this big universe. “The morning stars sang together,” says the Book of Job, “and all the angels shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7)

Wouldn’t that have been something to see? The stars singing together! And all the angels shouting for joy! Wow!

We know, too, that the angels praise God in Heaven. “Praise the Lord, you His angels,” sings David in Psalm 103, “you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His word.” (Psalm 103:20) One hymn puts it this way: “Around the throne of God, a band of glorious angels ever stand.”

And when people get a chance to look into Heaven, they see a lot of angels there. Remember Jacob’s dream at Bethel? The ladder leading to Heaven, and all the angels running up and down on it? Remember John’s vision, in the Book of Revelation? He saw so many angels in Heaven that he couldn’t begin to count them!

But the big thing that we know about angels is that they’re messengers from God. They’re the ones who took God’s messages and personally delivered them to people on Earth. An angel came to Hagar in Genesis 16, and told her how famous her son, Ishmael, would be. Angels took Lot and his family from the City of Sodom, and saved their lives. An angel commissioned Gideon to raise a little army and save the Israelites from Midianite terrors. And the list could go on and on: Sampson’s parents, the prophet Zechariah, Peter and Paul in the New Testament. You remember those stories. Angels are messengers from God. As a matter of fact, in both languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek, the word for “messenger” is the same as the word for “angel.” The terms are identical. An angel is a messenger. A messenger is an angel.

Think of our word “evangelism.” You know what it means? It means telling the “Good News.” It means you’ve got something wonderful to tell someone else. It means you’re so full of the love of God that it spills out in your conversations. Now look at the word “evangelism” again. Right in the middle of it is the word, “angel”! It’s supposed to be there! “Evangelism” comes from a Greek word meaning “good news” or “good message.” And in the Bible, “angel” and “messenger” mean the same thing.

But angels don’t show up every day. That’s why the visitations by the angels in the Christmas story are so dramatic. Angels bring big messages. They come around when the message is marked “special delivery.”

And that’s the job for angels. Normally, God shows His splendor in the heavens. Normally, God speaks His power in the wind and the waves. Normally, God talks to His people through prophets and preachers and the Bible. But sometimes the message is too big. Sometimes it’s too important to trust that someone will get the message. Sometimes God needs to take special care so that it comes out right, so that it’s heard by the right people in the right way. Sometimes no one can carry the message except the angels!

And that’s why an angel came to Joseph. This was a big message. And that’s why Gabriel showed up at Mary’s house that day. He’s a messenger of God. And when he showed up in Mary’s room, she knew it wasn’t a piece of junk mail he was delivering! God had a special message! And only an angel could carry it! It was the message of Jesus. It was the message of salvation. It was the message of hope in troubled times, peace in a chaotic world, joy in a depressed society. It was a big message – a miraculous message. And it came special delivery!

And here’s where the story gets really interesting. Because the first thing that happens to Joseph and Mary, after the angels leave, is that they turn into angels themselves! You didn’t know that? Joseph and Mary became angels! I told you the word “angel” means “messenger”! And Joseph became an angel to his young bride-to-be through his love and understanding, he took her the message of God’s love. And Mary, when she heard the message of what God was about to do, she became a messenger too. She took the message of Gabriel and became an angel for her cousin, Elizabeth. She went to tell Elizabeth the Good News, the Gospel, the Message. In the best sense of the word, Mary and Joseph became angels!

That’s what this season of the year is really all about. And that’s what this church is all about, too. To hear the message of God’s Good News of love and hope and renewal and life – sent special delivery from Heaven by way of angels – and then turning those of us who hear it into angels of Good News for others.

And that’s the message for us this morning, isn’t it? The angels came to Joseph and to Mary. They had messages to bring – special delivery. They were messages of Jesus, messages of God’s Kingdom, messages of the Heavenly Father’s love. God couldn’t trust just anyone to deliver them. So He sent His messengers. And when God’s messengers came to Joseph and Mary, they knew: this was important! These were messages of a lifetime!

But once they heard their message, once they understood what God was saying – they turned into angels too. They turned into messengers of God’s Good News! They carried that message to others.

Did you ever want to see an angel? You did? Then look around you. This place is filled with angels! You say you never thought of these people as angels?

A little boy read Hebrews 13:2 in the King James version. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” And he told his friend that angels don’t always have wings. Sometimes he said, they’re strangers in underwear!

So… who can say what an angel might look like? But this I know: I look out at you and I see a lot of angels! That’s right! We are angels of God. Like Joseph and Mary. We have received the message of the Gospel. We see in the Christmas story what God is doing. We know that in love God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners. So we have a message to tell.

May God help us to be faithful angels!


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