Angels over Crosspool
December 19, 2011
It’s great to be able to join in singing the Christmas story together this afternoon surrounded by all these angels that have been made for us by hundreds of pairs of hands from such a range of groups from within our community. They’re reminders to us of what a vibrant place Crosspool is, and how much we have to cherish and to thank God for in the life of our neighbourhood. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s helped make these lovely artworks which are lend a real note of joy to our celebration of Christmas.
It’s clear to me that, even for people who have little connection with the Christian faith, angels still represent something attractive, something that people warm to. What is that? Are the Christmas angels a pretty piece of window dressing to take their place alongside Frosty the Snowman and the inflatable Santa, or is there something more going on?
Now I’m not the kind of Christian who has angelic visions on any regular kind of basis. I’m not much into pan-pipes or soft focus photography, and the God whom I meet in Jesus Christ is pretty down-to earth and unsentimental. There’s a toughness and challenge for me about a God who takes on human life in poor peasant family in an obscure corner of the world. In Jesus we reckon with a saviour who shuns weaponry and the trappings of political power, and who makes known God’s rule by quietly embracing the leprous beggar, by eating with the shunned sex-worker. Not much tinsel or fairy lights around here. And yet the Gospel writers want us to understand that this same Jesus shows us God at work, bringing the chance of wholeness and freedom, of forgiveness and a new start for everyone. In Jesus divine love overflows into human life, in a new momentum of grace and glory.
And as Luke the Gospel writer sets down his account of God’s saving work in Jesus, he devotes a full two chapters to the birth of Jesus, as a preface to the main story of which follows. We’ve heard much of this beautifully told story this afternoon. You’ll have noticed how angels feature in Luke’s telling of the story, signalling moments in which God is breaking into human affairs. Sounds rather fanciful, I hear you thinking. Did it honestly happen like that?
As we listen to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth it’s important to recognise where the focus of Luke the Gospel writer’s concern lies. What he was interested in was not so much historical accuracy, as theological truth: telling the truth about the God who is beyond history, beyond knowledge itself, and who yet chooses to become incarnate, to share all the pain and joy of life in the person of Jesus.
Luke’s angels express the “beyondness” of God, that something which our words strive towards but can never fully get to. The glory of God is something we can’t pin down with words: any words we use will be no more than an approximation. We can’t reduce the glory God to an equation or a mathematical formula.
How then do we express this inexpressible thing, the majesty and glory of God? It’s here that poets and artists can help us. Artists and poets can help to see the world through fresh eyes, not simply depicting the world as it is but opening up our minds and imaginations to new possibilities, a new way of seeing. And angels have always provided inspiration to artists and poets. The word angel means “messenger” and it’s my experience that God can speak to us through art and poetry, and that the ordinary stuff of paint, canvas and words on a page can help us catch a glimpse of glory.
I hope that our Angels here in church may speak to you this way. Each one has been made with care, and love and enjoyment. These are not objects that have any monetary worth or value. They are simply what they uniquely are, inhabiting the space of our church. And in so being they can point us towards the God who comes to dwell right here with us, sharing our space, sharing our life, Emmanuel, God in our midst.