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Angels Among Us *Weekend Open Thread*

December 16, 2017

Recently I received an excellent lesson from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, one that ties in very well with Advent and Christmas.

Yes, indeed, a rabbi has a great message for this holy, mysterious season we are in now. How is that, one might ask? It’s Christmas, after all – celebrating the birth of the Messiah. True enough, that is, but that baby, and that Messiah, was Jewish after all, so it seems appropriate.

Even more, though, is the topic Rabbi Eckstein had as his focus: Angels. What could be more appropriate to the Christmas story than angels? After all, one need look no further than how Mary conceived than to the proclamation of an Angel. Luke 1:26-38 tells the story:

26 Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee. 27 The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.

28 When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said, “You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”

29 She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.

30 The angel told her,

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor[a] with God.
31 You will become pregnant, give birth to a son,
    and name him Jesus.
32 He will be a great man
    and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him
    the throne of his ancestor David.
33 Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever,
    and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.”

35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.

36 “Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age. People said she couldn’t have a child. 37 But nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.”

Then the angel left her.

This beautiful, haunting Carol sums up the visit to Mary beautifully, an dis a favorite of mine:

Isn’t that just gorgeous? Love that hymn…

Now, I know many people cast doubt upon this story and the Virgin birth. I mean, c’mon, Angels? The Holy Spirit?

Well, yes. The impact of Angels in our lives is exactly about which Rabbi Eckstein wrote extensively in Limmud for this month’s lesson. Eckstein wrote:

Yet, God wants us to know about angels – to know that they exist even if we cannot see them. Angels are mentioned throughout the Jewish and Christian Bibles — from the angel who stands guard at the Garden of Eden with a fiery sword, to the three angels who visited Abraham with good news about the pending birth of Isaac. It was an angel who stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, and another angel who rescued Hagar and Ishmael in the desert. In the Christian Bible, it is angels who foretold the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:11-20; 1:26-38).

Later, as Luke recorded, a heavenly host of angels proclaimed the birth of the baby Jesus (Luke 2:13) to shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem.

In Judaism, we mention angels every single day in our prayers. We speak of them every night before we go to sleep. On the Sabbath, our tradition is that angels accompany us home from the synagogue, and our Sabbath meal begins by welcoming God’s angels into our households. So why does God want us to know about these invisible celestial beings that we cannot speak to or recognize? The answer is simple: God wants us to know about angels because He wants us to know how much He loves us. The most common Hebrew word for angels is the word malach, which also can mean “messenger.” This is because the clearest definition of an angel is a messenger of God. Angels function as God’s army of helpers, charged with guiding, protecting, challenging, and helping human beings. As it says in Psalms, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (91:11).

If you have ever felt alone, forgotten, or forsaken, learning about the angels who walk among us will fill you with hope, peace, and gratitude. We are not alone. And while God is our ultimate Savior, He sends legions of His angels to assist us every single day.

Honestly, I don’t think I have been thinking of angels enough, especially not on a daily basis. It does help to consider that we are not alone, that there are angels sent from God who walk with us every day, helping to bear us up, to strengthen us, and to be ambassadors of God.

That very concept, the angel as Ambassador, was illustrated further by Rabbi Eckstein:

In the Christian Bible, we read about Joseph struggling to do the right thing after discovering that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant. He wanted to be faithful to the law, yet not publicly disgrace Mary, so he had decided to divorce her. That is, until “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,” and told Joseph to go ahead with plans to marry her (Matthew 1:18-21).

[…]

Sometimes those we think have come to harm us are angles sent by God to help us. It might be the difficult stranger who challenges us to extend the limits of our patience or the street beggar who demands we grow our capacity for giving. Sometimes God’s angels help us attain what our heart desires, but many times His angels protect us from what might have otherwise caused us harm, or help challenge us to become our very best. Whatever an angel’s role or message may be in our lives, we can be confident in this as well — God’s angels are also here to protect us and guard us, as we read in the Psalms, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (34:7). […] (Click here to download the entire Limmud piece.)

Wow, I have to say, that is quite the eye opening concept – that it may well be that we are “entertaining angels unaware” when we encounter someone difficult or aggravating, that maybe we have a lesson we need to learn, or we need another path to travel. That is something I would do well to remember.

Angels – God’s messengers who walk with us every day, to strengthen, bear up, support, and even challenge, us.  That is a comfort indeed, and a lesson I would do well to remember, even when it is not the Christmas season.

With this Sunday being the third week of Advent, I will leave you with another carol I find to be soothing, just like the thought of angels among us:

That’s it for me, friends. Be well, and feel free to discuss whatever is on your minds for this Weekend Open Thread.

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