Merry Christmas, my friends! I hope you will forgive a “Sunday Moment,” it was hard to pass up the opportunity to write to you on Christmas. On this day, the gospel tells us that “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:7-12).
Among church geeks there is a subset of liturgically oriented, mostly Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran church geeks who like to discuss, joke, and create memes about biblically accurate angels. I’m 100% part of this subset. What is a “biblically accurate angel,” you ask, and how is it different than the glowing human with wings we see in most Christian art? Well, like many important parts of the Bible, clarity and definition are not what we find. Yes, angels or sometime simply “men of God” appear like humans to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) and Lot at Sodom (Genesis 19). In other cases, angels are described in much more other worldly terms such as in Isaiah 6:1-2: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.”
The first chapter of Ezekiel provides another bizarre image: “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass.And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle” (5-10). Nine chapters later Ezekiel adds that each angel had “their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. (10:12).
Based on these descriptions, Biblically accurate angels have been drawn like this:
By now I’m sure you’re asking why any of this is important. It’s important because it gives context for why angels always have to say “be not afraid” when they appear throughout the Bible. In most cases, angels appear as messengers of hope or peace. Their words may be hard to hear and accept, but they ultimately bring blessings rather than harm. Their presence foreshadows the reality of the human experience and remind us that while we may enjoy the moment, we also need to prepare for what comes next. After all the planning, organizing, purchasing, and agonizing we made it to Christmas. We’ve earned the chance to relax with family, drink eggnog and mulled wine, or break out the gin and good whiskey. Many of us plan to settle into a well-deserved week off where we will be largely unavailable (hint, hint). Enjoy this time of peace, my friends, but once it’s over we have to get back to work fighting for justice and creating spaces where people can be safe, belong, and flourish.
How are you spending Christmas? What are you preparing for in the New Year?
Let us pray: “Look around. The Sacred has collided with the flesh. Holiness incarnates. The Spirit of Christ has come. Wars still rage. Hunger persists. White supremacy continues. The joy of Christmas does not shield us from betraying one another, from building walls, from shunning Queer love or normalizing misogyny. And yet.Here in the midst of it God is with us. As close as our own breath, as deep as our longings, as intimate as the love we share, as present as our hunger, our pain, our pleasure, our touch. In the middle of a world swirling with chaos, something new is born. Something that turns us towards each other, that will keep us dreaming of an economy that doesn’t profit from the poor, that will make us proud of queering notions of love and relationship, that will give us the courage to disrupt the lies of white supremacy, that will help us stay soft even when things are so very hard, that will remind us how powerful Love can be when it is channeled in the direction of collective liberation. Today, we are reminded that we don’t have to look very far for the source of our hope. We just have to pay attention. Close attention.Listening carefully in the midst of all the noise. Letting wisdom bubble up from within. Moving at the pace of God, not of production. Take courage. Linger in the mystery. Look anew at one another. Christ has come. All flesh shall be set free.” ~From Enflesh (https://enfleshed.com/liturgy/for-christmas-morning).
Blessings on your week, my friends! Please let me know if there is anything I can do.