Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When you think of God’s holy angels, I would venture to guess that the word humility does not immediately cross your mind. For, in the Bible, angels are described as being glorious and dazzling, powerful, and even terrifying to behold, but not humble, right? Well, actually, the angels are quite humble. In fact, they submit themselves as servants of the LORD to do His bidding, and they submit themselves to serve men, the Church, to you, and to me.
Likewise, we must humble ourselves when we think and speak about God’s angels, for, in truth, the Bible has but a few things to say about them and we must humble ourselves to neither say too much or too little. For example: When did God create the angels? Well, the first mention in the Bible of an angel of any kind is the introduction of the serpent in Genesis chapter three. As we learn later that the serpent was actually Satan, a fallen angel and the prince of demons, it seems clear that the angels were in existence at least some time prior to the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We may speculate, then, that they were created within the six days of creation as described in Genesis chapter one, and we may even speculate that they were part of the heavenly host before creation, but that would, indeed, be speculation, for Holy Scripture simply has not explicitly indicated when the angels were created.
Additionally, the Bible is clear that angels and human beings are distinct, unique creatures of God. Thus, angels do not become men, though they may appear in the form of men, and, similarly, men do not become angels. Now, I know that this goes against many a Hallmark card, Hollywood movie, and popular television program, but, nonetheless, we do not become angels when we die. Jesus does teach that, in the resurrection we will be like the angels, but being like them, in terms of eternal life and holiness, is different from actually being angels.
The Bible speaks of ranks or hierarchies of angels: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, archangels, principalities, and angels. We will sing of these today in our Communion Hymn “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.” The seraphim are the highest rank of angels and are those closest to God and who immediately behold His face and glory. They are described by Isaiah and St. John in the Revelation to be surrounding the throne of God singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The seraphim were also depicted in the form of statues guarding the Holy of Holies in the temple. Most of the ranks of angels serve primarily in the heavenly realms in the choirs of heaven and as ministering angels. Powers and principalities are actually named by St. Paul as amongst the kinds of angels that rebelled against God and fell from grace. However, it is the Archangels and angels that make most of the appearances to human beings in the Bible. Specifically, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel are named and appeared at important events in connection with God’s plan of salvation and the birth, life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. The rank of angels simply called angels constitute the multitude of the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus.
The chief function of the angels is to serve God and to protect His Church and to deliver messages from God to men at momentous occasions. In the Old Testament, a particular angel called The Angel of the LORD, whom many theologians believe to be the Son of God prior to the Incarnation, made physical appearances to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses. Michael appears in Daniel and Revelation, and, of course, Gabriel figures prominently in the birth narratives of St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Gospels. The word angel means messenger of God, and angels have often served in such a capacity. Additionally, there is something to the idea about personal guardian angels that keep watch over and protect each of us, particularly the weak and defenseless, young children, the poor, and the elderly.
In respect to the angelic role of protector and guardian, this is a key aspect of the propers for The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels. In Daniel, the Archangel Michael is said to be “the great prince who has charge” over God’s people Israel. Though it was spoken to Daniel in the seventh century B.C., and the seeming referent would be God’s covenant people Israel, the fact that the prophecy was for a later time likely indicates that the referent is the New Israel, that is, the Church of Jesus Christ. This interpretation is only bolstered by the reference to a time of great trouble and the awakening of “those who sleep in the dust”, which surely denotes the resurrection on the Last Day. Similarly, today’s reading from Revelation describes “a war in heaven” in which “Michael and his angels” were fighting “against the dragon.” Many have speculated as to when this “war in heaven” occurred; was it the original rebellion of Lucifer before the fall of man, or is this a war that is yet to come at the end of time, or is this war in connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection? You may rest assured and know that this “war in heaven” was indeed in connection to Jesus’ death and resurrection, by which He “crushed the serpent’s head” and took away the sting of death forever. Because of Jesus’ victory on the cross, Satan and his angels, that is, demons, were no longer granted audience with the LORD God in heaven and were thrown out, down to the earth. They were conquered, the Revelation states, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” a clear reference to Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection. However, a great woe is proclaimed to the earth, “for the devil has come down […] in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.”  Satan knows that his time is short because he knows that he has been defeated. However, he will still work endlessly through lies and deceptions to make sure that God’s people do not believe that. Therefore, do not be deceived, but trust in the Lord and remain in His Word and His Wounds that you may persevere through temptation, suffering, and even death, but do not be afraid, for the Lord is victorious and He has given His holy angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways.
Here I will return to the subject of humility once again, for it was the sin of pride, which is idolatry, which prompted Jesus to teach about humility and even angels in the Gospel from St. Matthew appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels. Jesus’ disciples came to Him inquiring, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In answer, Jesus placed a little child, a paidion in the Greek, meaning an infant or very young child, in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” You see, pride is said to have been the sin of Lucifer, idolatry, which caused him to rebel against God and fall from His grace. Lucifer wanted to be greater in importance, rank, and power than the man, Adam, that he had made the crown of His creation, and Lucifer wanted to be greater than God Himself – hence the proverb, “Pride goeth before the fall.” One of Satan’s greatest and most effective temptations is pride and idolatry. In fact, pride and idolatry were the temptations he used to conquer and enslave Adam and Eve. And, pride and idolatry are effective temptations he uses on you today. Perhaps our greatest defense against Satan’s temptations of pride and idolatry is humility, selflessness, and servanthood. For, when you think more of others than you do of yourself, then you will find contentment and peace in who God has called you to be and you will draw your strength, your purpose, and your fulfilling from Him.
Indeed, this is how it is for a little child. An infant child does not boast of anything at all, nor does she seek greatness in the eyes of men. But, a little child trusts completely and unwaveringly in her mother to feed her, clothe her, and protect her from harm and danger. Likewise, Jesus would have you become like little children and trust in Him and cling to Him alone for all your needs of body and soul. He would have you, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and […] not lean on your own understanding.” Further, Jesus attaches a wonderful promise of great blessing to childlike faith, trust, and selflessness: “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Yes, the angels have that kind of access to the Father; they behold His face as none of us in the flesh can presently do. Now we see the Father through a glass dimly – that is, through the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacraments worn and consumed – but then, in the resurrection, then we shall be like the angels and see the Father face to face. However, until then, we take comfort and find strength in Jesus’ promise that God’s holy angels are watching over us, guarding us, and protecting us who will humble ourselves in repentance and faith and thereby receive God’s gracious gifts in Jesus Christ. Moreover, we take comfort and find strength in the message they bring us: We are forgiven by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Come now and receive the gifts He died to give to you: His Word and Spirit, His washing of renewal and regeneration, His absolving Word, and His body and blood. You may not yet see His face, but He knows you and He calls you and He remains with you to sustain you and keep you that you may persevere through all temptations and receive the crown of eternal life that no one, not even Satan and his evil horde may take from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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