24 September 2013

Their Angels Behold the Face of My Father

For the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels (from A.D. 2002)

Angels (of a sort) have become rather popular over the past several years.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that popular culture has actually become rather fascinated with the whole idea of “angels.”  Thus, it isn’t hard to find a variety of calendars, cards, and books portraying angels in all shapes and sizes, usually in some manner of cuteness or romanticism, “other-worldly” in a kind of science-fiction/fantasy concoction.

Unfortunately, in almost every case, these so-called “angels” of the world’s imagination are considered and discussed apart from any mention of Christ and His Church.  In many cases, they actually have far more in common with new age mysticism than any sort of Christianity.  They give the yuppies and the generation ‘x’ crowd a way of being “spiritual” and “religious,” without taking the Holy Triune God Himself seriously.

All such focus and attention on the “angels” (or some idea of “angels”) for their own sake, apart from Christ, plays right into the hands of Satan—that wicked angel, lucifer, who fell from heaven (and took a host of others with him) precisely because he wanted to upstage his Creator and Lord: the Father Son & Holy Spirit.

In order to avoid that pitfall, especially today as we give thanks for Saint Michael and all the holy angels, the safest and most fruitful course of action is for us to consider the role of angels on the basis of Holy Scripture.

To begin with, our Readings from the Old Testament Prophet, Daniel, and from St. John’s Book of the Revelation, in particular, give us a very different picture of the real angels of God than the “cutesy” and “romantic” images of legend and pop culture.  Saint Michael the Archangel is a fierce and mighty warrior of the Lord, and his angels a powerful army, waging war against the powers of darkness.

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought.

In order to put these things into perspective, let us also consider a few examples from the Old Testament Book of Second Kings, which indicate to some extent the immense strength and great number of the holy angels:

On one occasion, the king of Syria dispatched his army to surround the city of Dothan, where the Prophet Elisha was staying.  A servant of the Prophet discovered, when he woke that morning, that the surrounding countryside was brimming with these Syrian soldiers and their weapons of war.  However, when he reported this news to Elisha, the Prophet calmly told him, “Don’t be afraid!  Our army is bigger than theirs.”  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes to see “horses and chariots of fire everywhere on the hills surrounding the city,” i.e. the mighty angelic army that was keeping constant vigil around the Prophet and people of Yahweh.

Some time later, the good King Hezekiah received a threatening letter from a commander of the Assyrian forces, indicating that they would take Jerusalem captive.  When Hezekiah immediately sought help from the Lord, the Prophet Isaiah assured him that not one Assyrian arrow would be fired into the city.  Incredibly, in one night, a single angel struck the enemy camp and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead the next day.

Now this morning we have heard from the Book of the Revelation a description of a great cosmic battle being waged first in heaven (and also now on earth) between Saint Michael and all the holy angels on the one hand, and Satan with all his demonic hordes and fallen angels on the other.  Given the power of these great and powerful beings, we can hardly imagine the intensity of that conflict; no doubt the military conflicts of the past several years, in the middle east and elsewhere, would simply pale by comparison.

But as St. John continues, “Woe to you, O earth and sea!  For the devil has come down to you in great wrath.”  Which is to say, that same fierce battle that Saint Michael and his angels fight against Satan also unfolds and is fought for each and every one of you individually, beginning with your Baptism into Christ Jesus.

We find that battle being fought quite clearly in the Gospels.  In fact, the casting out of demons is one of the primary trademarks of our Lord and His Apostles, as we have heard again this morning from Saint Luke.  The demons must submit to the Name of Christ.  And it remains the case to this very day, also for you and me, that wherever Christ and His Gospel enter in, Satan is cast out and falls like lightning from the sky.  In the powerful words of Dr. Luther’s Baptismal rite: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”

In the waters and the Word of Holy Baptism, you have been given a participation in the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.  And that reality which you have in Christ is the very thing that gives to you the victory over sin, death and hell, and the power of the devil.  For there is nothing and no one in heaven or on earth which can destroy the Life of Christ.  Rejoice, therefore, in the words of our Lord, that your name has been written in His Book of Life, and that you have thus received the promise of eternal life with Him in heaven.

What is more, along with that certain hope of everlasting life, you also have another promise from the Lord, as recorded by Saint Matthew in his Gospel, that the “little ones” of Jesus are watched over and protected by His guardian angels, who “always behold the face of His Father in heaven.”  That applies not only to small children, but to you and me, as well, and to all who have been “born again” as the “little ones” of Jesus Christ by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  From that moment, when your battle with Satan began, you are assisted by the mighty protection of angels.

The Guardian Angels guard and protect you in Christ, and they are honored to do so, because of Christ and all that He has done for you.  In fact—as great and powerful as the holy angels are—they nevertheless stand in reverent awe of the fact that you are raised in Christ to the heights of His divine nature.  For in Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Living God, your lowly human nature has been exalted far above all the angels; some theologians speculate that it was knowledge of this plan for humanity that led Satan to his jealous rebellion.

But as for Saint Michael and the holy angels of God, there is no jealousy; quite the opposite, as our Lord reveals in one of His Parables, the angels in heaven rejoice at your repentance and the salvation of your soul and body in Christ Jesus.  As those who live to serve the Holy Triune God, they find their greatest joy and satisfaction in seeing the accomplishment of all that He has offered and given to you (and to all His people) by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Accordingly, the protection of the Guardian Angels is not only physical (as most of us might normally assume), but also (and especially) a spiritual protection:  For example, when Jesus promises in our Gospel this morning that nothing at all will harm His Disciples, He obviously does not mean that His Christian people will never suffer loss or pain of any kind in this world; indeed, in many other places He clearly promises and reveals that those who follow Him must carry the Cross.  Yet, in spite of the suffering and death that you may endure in your brief life on earth, you have His promise that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the protection, above all else—your spiritual preservation—that Saint Michael and the holy guardian angels provide, by the gracious will of our Father in heaven.  And then, in addition, they oftentimes preserve your physical life on earth, as well (and probably all of us could give some striking examples of that fact).

But our relationship to the holy angels does not end with their protection of our bodies and souls; nor will it ever end.  For they also join with us, both now and throughout eternity, in praising our Holy Triune God and the Lamb upon His Throne (as Saint John describes for us in the early chapters of Revelation).

We acknowledge that presence of the holy angels among us in worship, especially as we gather for the Holy Communion, blending our voices with theirs in the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify the glorious Name of the everlasting Father Son & Holy Spirit.

It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that Saint Michael and all the holy angels should surround us as we gather today for the Holy Communion.  For as revealed by the Word of the Lord in our Reading from Revelation, ultimately, you overcome the forces of Satan and his evil angels “on account of the Blood of the Lamb,” which He gives to you again this morning for the strengthening of your faith and for life everlasting.

In the Old Testament, when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, a mighty angel with a great flaming sword was set to guard the Tree of Life, lest they should eat from the tree and live forever in their sin.  But now, by the holy and precious Blood of Christ, all our sin has been forgiven, and His Cross has become for you and me a new Tree of Life, from which we eat the Fruit of His Redemption: His Body given for us.

Thus, beyond all doubt, the holy angels are gathered here with us, still guarding the Tree of Life from sin, death, and the power of the devil—no longer barring the way to the children of Adam and Eve, but keeping us safe and secure as we eat from this life-giving Tree.  The great flaming swords and the powerful armies of Saint Michael and all his holy angels surround us on all sides and fight for us to the glory of Christ.

These mighty angels rejoice before the Face of the Father in heaven, that your name has been written in His Book of Life, and that you have been given the Name of the Holy Triune God in your Baptism.  Therefore,
they join with you—and with all the people of God (in heaven and on earth)—in worshiping the Lamb Who was slain, Who has risen to live and reign forever, Who comes to you now in His Body and Blood.

In the beautiful words of the ancient hymn:

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way, as the Light of Light, descending from the realms of endless day, comes the powers of hell to vanquish as the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph, cherubim with sleepless eye, veil their faces to the presence as with ceaseless voice they cry: “Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

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