Angels and Little Ones
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah, Mary sang of the Lord, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” This is the proper work of God: first, to humble those who would puff themselves up with their own words and deeds, as He did to the people of Babel who attempted to raise themselves up to be equal with God; and second, to lift up those who have been brought low in sin, who kneel before the Lord to confess to Him that they are poor, miserable sinners.
It seems as though the disciples of the Lord have always had the bad habit of exalting themselves. Whether it’s James and John asking to sit at the Lord’s right hand, or the whole collection of them rebuking those who brought children to Jesus for His blessing, or when they inquire as to who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they’re all quite interested in ranking the faithful. And the faithful don’t seem to mind that very much. We take pride in our doctrinal faithfulness—and this is a particularly dangerous temptation for Lutherans—as if that that puts us in an exalted position in the kingdom of God. The high and mighty of the Church can see no need for angels. Angels, they say, are for children. Surely only the weak need to rely on invisible beings. Angels are for children and for those who are childish in their spiritual development. Angels are for those who childishly believe that some higher being lovingly designs our destinies.
But viewing angels in such a way misunderstands what the word “angel” means. Angel means “messenger.” Angels aren’t heavenly commandos. Angels are messengers. They come armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is Word of God.” Angels are mouthpieces who repeat what the Lord says back to Him in prayer, praise, and thanks. They speak against the devil in defiance, for the defense and protection of the children of God. Angels speak the Word of God. The Word is their weapon—and it is a most effective weapon. Consider our appointed Epistle. Michael and the angelic band fight with Satan, and they cast him down. Their weapon is nothing else than the Word of God. John tells us, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their witness.” Satan fights by using words of deception, which has always been his weapon against the faithful. Michael, on the other hand, fights by speaking the Word of God.
The Lord continues to send messengers today. They do not have wings. They do not look like the cute little cherubs you see in the Hallmark store. Instead they stand in this pulpit wearing collars that mark them as slaves. They wear black to demonstrate that they, like their hearers, are sinners who have been humbled before the Lord. And they cover that black with a robe of white that demonstrates the righteousness of Christ upon them through the waters of Holy Baptism, just as that righteousness rests upon their hearers. Pastors do not lift themselves up. Instead, with the angel who talks to John in Revelation, they say to their congregations, “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” And like the heavenly messengers, these pastors come armed only with the blood of the Lamb and the Word of God—but these weapons bear the power of God to overcome Satan as effectively as they do for St. Michael and the holy angels.
Those whom the Word converts become as little children. They are humbled, and, in turn, humble themselves as children. But those with childlike faith are exalted to the highest place in the Kingdom of God. Everyone in God’s kingdom relies on and takes to heart that angelic Word, whether it is spoken by invisible messengers named Michael and Gabriel or by the visible messengers who preach the Word from this pulpit and feed the flock with the body and blood of the Lamb. And when that Word of God brings even one lost sinner to repentance, St. Michael and all the holy angels of heaven rejoice. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.