Begin making angels from 2 disposable facemasks.
The fourth Sunday of Advent often focusses on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but I want to look this morning at the angelic messengers. This church has lots of images of angels around it and within it. There are carved and gilded ones in the reredos behind the altar, painted ones in the windows – they are full of angels. In the bible, angels are messengers, but when they speak it is as if God is present.
Angels take us to God, to the heavenly presence of God, and so when they appear in a story we know that something is coming direct from the heart and throne of God.
High up in our East Window, either side of the dove, there are four named archangels. You will need binoculars of a telephoto lens to read the names and see the detail. From left to right they are Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel.
Michael is carrying a staff and scales in his hands. He is the protector, who weighs the souls and battles with the beast. The story of St George and the dragon is probably a confusion from a picture of Michael slaying the beast as in the book of Revelation. With Michael, God’s judgement is present and his ultimate victory over all that would thwart his purposes. God will endure. With our facemask angel, we can think of those who protect the vulnerable and keep us safe. While these restrictions in the pandemic are frustrating, they are designed to keep us safe.
Raphael is carrying a fish. He is not peckish, but this refers to a story in the Apocryphal book of Tobit, where Raphael heals Tobit of his blindness by smearing the gall of a fish on his eyes (Tobit 11:7-15). The story says it stung a bit (and probably whiffed a bit too, though it doesn’t say that). Raphael is the healer, and the Guild of St Raphael, named after him, encourages the healing ministry of the church. Raphael is a good angel to make out of a facemask because he stands for God’s healing and caring, curing and presence in this pandemic. Our facemask angel can, therefore, help us think of those who heal and care, and our hospital which is under such significant strain at the moment.
Next along is Gabriel and he popped up in our gospel reading (Luke 1:26-38). He is carrying a lily, the symbol of purity, commitment and rebirth. He announces to both Elizabeth and Mary that they are to bear children who will have crucial roles in God’s saving plan, John the Baptist (after which this church is named) and of course Jesus. The message to these women is that they will be bearers of God’s confidence in humanity and bring that to birth – their role is active and not passive. This messenger brings God’s comfort and hope, news of his saving love. With Gabriel, our facemask angel can help us think of those who keep hope alive and bring it to birth. We need to the turn the volume on them at the moment and down on those who sap hope and depress.
Finally, in our window, is Uriel. He carries a book and what looks like a scroll. His name means the light of God. He is often associated with aesthetics and beauty. In the midst of so much to depress us, not least with a deepening of the restrictions we face as we have gone into Tier 4 now and the prospect of further New Year lockdowns, an angel to remind us that the world is beautiful and there is so much that can lift our spirits. God is creative and brings beauty out of brokenness, into the most surprising places as his life and love flourish. With our facemask angel, we can think of all creative artists who lift our spirits and bring colour and spark to our living.
So we think of angels today, how they represent and bring God’s presence to us – defending, healing, saving and creating. May these angels remind you that God is with us and his saving love will endure through whatever storms and trials come our way.
Sermon for Advent 4, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 20th December 2020