How the angels must watch the first day when that light reaches a new spot on this eartht hat God so loves – and the great wall of darkness is pushed back one tiny bit – and, oh, the joy of being allowed to go with His message that first day. How can His people hold back from that joy while one corner remains unvisited by the Dayspring! March 1895
Of all the symbols of Christmas, angels are among the most appealing! Bejeweled, beribboned, bannered – the very word “angel” conjures images of heavenly beings with shimmering glittering wings, gauzy flowing robes of jewel-toned colors edged in gold; messages heralded with instrument and song. So compelling is our vision of angels that it is easy to overlook their very real, very significant role in history.
Specific accounts of angelic involvement in preparing men and women for God’s redemptive plan – as well as expediting that plan – are recorded hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. An “angel of the Lord” traveled before the Israelite army as they made their exodus out of Egypt; he served as a barricade between the armies of Egypt and Israel by night. Later in Canaan, under Joshua’s leadership, the angel rebuked the wayward Children of Israel, bringing them to the point of repentance as he reminded them of God’s covenant promise and protection.
As the long-awaited Plan drew nigh, angels prepared the hearts of the leading characters for their role in the unfolding drama. An angel prepared Zechariah that his aged wife Elizabeth would bear a son to “make ready a people for the Lord.” The angel Gabriel prepared a young Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, “Son of the Most High.” An angel reassured a bewildered and frightened Joseph that his betrothed was indeed a virgin, impregnated by Divine intention and supernatural means. And, of course, it was angels that made the birth announcement to the shepherds that holy night.
However miraculous, however spectacular the angels’ preparatory role in this great-on-going drama spanning centuries never did they act as independents, taking it upon themselves to meddle in the affairs of fickle, faithless and fearful mankind. Always they acted solely as agents of the Divine and Holy God, carrying out His orders to implement the details of God’s grand purposes.
It continues to be so. Lilias imagined angels rejoicing when the Light of the Good News of Jesus penetrated a land for the first time. This observation was recorded during her 5-month journey to the Southlands in 1895 – the most ambitious yet undertaken – first by camel caravan to Tozeur then a five-day trek southwest across the great Eastern Erg to visit the Souf villages of Oued Souf. The third evening of their epic journey across the Eastern Erg, they began to experience a true Saharan sandstorm. “The next day was a battling on in simple endurance through a blinding blizzard of sand – Every trace of footprints round our tent had been swept away, and the track was invisible as we journeyed on…” Toward evening the gusts of wind subsided – and the next morning dawned clear and calm, showing range after range of snow-like sandhills, rose-tinted in the sunrise: “… and we knew that buried among them were the villages for which we were making – villages where ‘the True Light’ has never yet dawned…”
We, with Lilias, can imagine the angels rejoicing at the prospect of the Light of Life penetrating the isolated Souf villages. And we can wonder: What role might angels have played guiding them and protecting them through the deadly sandstorm the likes of which had claimed the lives of many far more experienced than they with the caprice of the elements?
What about us? What role might angels play in our lives? Many share accounts of angelic visitations or involvements which thrill the believer and repel the skeptic – but which make us wonder: “Could it have been an angel?” The Scripture attests to “guardian angels” and comforts us with reassuring words: “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…” (Psalm 91:11)
Frederick Buechner wrote: “Sleight-0f-hand magic is based on the demonstrable fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to se. Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well. Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t. An angel spread his glittering wings over us, and we say things like ‘It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive’ or ‘I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right – or ‘I don’t know where I ever found the courage.'”
We never know as we go about our daily rounds when an angel – actual or symbolic – will spread his “glittering wings” over us, gracing our lives with its unexpected presence. I can’t claim to know whether I, personally, have been “touched by an angel.” But I do believe that angels do exist – and that they are involved in carrying out God’s purposes not only in the world at large but in the lives of individuals. More importantly, I believe that God exists and that even in the darkest times He is present and working His Purposes in our lives for our good – with or without the aid of angels!
Watercolor: undated, probably March 1895