7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. 12 Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
So, today we celebrate Michael and All Angels day! We honor the witness and fervor of angels as they act on behalf of God, delivering messages of God’s good word. In our text from the book of Daniel, Daniel learns of a chief prince named Michael who assists in the fight against the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece. Prince in this instance implies not a human in royal leadership but rather a sort of super human, celestial being that represents the interests of particular people. So the Angel Michael is introduced to Daniel as the protector of his people.
In our text from Revelation, John records vision of a great red dragon, with seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail sweeps down a third of the stars of heaven, throwing them to the earth. The dragon stands ready to devour the child of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. The child, who is to rule all the nations is born and snatched away, taken to God.
So, a war breaks out in heaven, and Michael and all his angels fight the great dragon. And despite the dragon and his angel’s best efforts, they are defeated. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
And so, we celebrate today the festival of Michael and All Angels. Angels thwarting dragons. That matches our cultural experience and portrayal of angels doesn’t?
In a few weeks you’ll set up the annual Christmas tree and you’ll grab your box of ornaments from the attack, and you’ll hand your family heirlooms, and your favorite meaningful ornaments. You may have some eloquent globes or figurines. Maybe a hallmark ornament. And then of course you’ll pull out the classic celestial figure slamming a giant 7-head dragon, the deceiver of the whole world, throwing him down to earth. yah? Everyone has one of those, right? You don't?
No, certainly our society has an affinity towards angels. The conversation and portrayal of angels is so abundantly present that we almost become desensitized to them, right?
Think about Clarence Obdoby, Angel 2nd Class, who answers the prayers of family and friends on Christmas eve to save George Bailey, And if successful, will earn his wings. This movie of course, it’s a wonderful life. And in the end, the bell on the tree rings, and the young girl zuzu says, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”
Think about the mid 90s and TV. I can still hear the opening tune to the show…”I’ll will walk with you, til the sun don’t even shine...I’ll walk with you..every time..I tell ya I’ll walk with you.”
Anybody? Touched by an angel? I remember my parents watching it. And again, the story of an angel, named Monica, who has climbed the angel promotion ladder from choir to annunciations, and now promoted from the search and rescue division to work individual cases. Along with her supervisor, Tess, Monica meets people on the walk of life, to help manage their cases, for a positive outcome. This portrays angels as guardians.
Speaking of guardians, there was a story out of Germany a few months ago. A man was driving his car and caught speeding by a traffic camera. As the car passed the camera, the camera took a snapshot in order to issue the ticket. Well at the exact moment the picture was taken, a dove flew in front of the car with its wings spread, hiding the man’s face.
The police reported jokingly that a “thanks to a feathered guardian angel..” and the intervention of the “Holy Spirit” they will choose mercy over justice and not issue a ticket.” They said, “we have understood this to be a sign to leave the driver at peace.” We portray angels as helping us avoid tickets.
If you haven’t heard, I was in a car accident this past week. Everyone is ok. Just a bruised ego and a very bruised car. But I was reminded of 2005, when I was in my first car wreck. I totalled my jeep. It wasn’t my fault. Lol. Anyways, when I got my new, used car, someone gave me a little metal guardian angel to clip on my sun visor and it said, “Never drive faster than your guardian angel flies.”
Right, these are the ways we perceive and portray angels in our everyday lives. I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve heard from people who were in an accident, or in the hospital, or a precarious situation and they talk about an angel rescuing them or aiding them. They can’t always recall the details of who or how, but they know so strongly that there was some sort of presence felt. As though an angel was watching over them or intervening on their behalf.
We portray angels as statues in our gardens, figurines on our mantles. We have plumb little babies with wings and halos, or delicate, fragile silver or diamond angelic beings dangling on chains around our neck...or charms on bracelets.
One of my favorite movies growing up...angels in the outfield. Young Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Rodger. And Roger’s dad promises that if the Angels win the pennant, his dad will come home. So Roger prays, and for the rest of the season angels show up to assist the team and help them win. Rubbing pitcher’s shoulders. Elevating outfielders to make crazy catches. At one point the whole stadium flaps their wings because they believe in something bigger.
The symbolism of Angels is everywhere. The language of angels is so present. How often do you or someone you know talk about someone being angelic, or acting like an angel? Or, an angel brought us together? An angel must have been watching over me? An angel made me do it!
It’s such a common place. Even in our worship, we talk about angels. In communion I say, and so with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim we praise your name and join their unending hymn. Notice our hymns today…
I think we’ve come to appreciate and perceive the presence of angels, but they truly remain somewhat of a great mystery, right? What does an angel look like? How do they act? Can humans be angels? Do they really level up from choir to case management? Are they guardians, controlling our acceleration pedal and monitoring our life choices?
Are they tangible, real beings, or hidden celestial beings. Is this the power of our confession when we proclaim a belief in God, the maker of heaven and earth, all things seen and unseen?
What, we fairly ask, is the deal with angels? Perhaps scripture is a great place to start.
Think about Abraham. In Genesis 18 it tells us that Abraham was visited by the Lord as he sat by the entrance of his tent. But the story goes on to say that three men approached the tent. Abraham welcomed them and fed them. They proclaimed to Abraham and Sarah that Sarah shall bear a son. The Lord appeared to Abrhama as these three men.
Think about Luke 1, as the Angel Gabriel is sent by God and appears to Mary. Gabriel says Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. He then proclaims to her that she will bear God’s son.
Think about Acts 12, when Peter is bound in prison. While the guards sleep and angel of the Lord appears, taps him on the shoulder, and helps his escape prison. It says Peter didn’t realize what was happening was real. He thought it was a vision. Once the angel leaves him, peter is certain that an angel rescued him.
In Mark 16, The women enter then empty tomb and find a man, dressed in a white robe. He says “Do not be alarmed and proclaims that Christ is risen”
Revelation 14, Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth - to every nation, tribe, and language.
Psalm 91 - for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
Hebrews - Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Of course, Revelation 5, as John hears the voice of thousands of angels - tens of thousands - circled around the throne singing “worthy is the lamp, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.
And of course there is today’s text...The great prince or angel Michael and his angels defeating the great dragon.
When we take another look through scripture and the presence of angels, it becomes apparent that an angel is one who delivers good news, proclaims good news. Brings forth the testament of God and God’s power. To be sure, the word Angel, when translated literally means “messenger.” An angel is one who delivers a message. We tend to associate angels with God as heavenly beings.
But the reality of the translation is that an angel is simply a messenger. One that is empowered by God, intrusted with good news, and sent to deliver the good news. More specifically, an angel is equipped with the word of God. The logos. God’s word alone.
If we look at today’s text from revelation, it is Michael and all angels that defeat the great dragon. But to be precise, verse 11 tells us that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The gift and power of the witness of angels is the deliverance of testimony. A message of God’s grace and love. And for the sake of scripture, testimony that is God’s word. Good news in God’s name.
The church has a long held a belief in angels and their witness to the power of God’s word to bring good news into a dark world. In fact, Luther insisted that this day, Michael and All Angels always remain a festival day so that we as a Christian people might hear again the story of the angels, and the power of the word of God to strike down the forces that defy God.
Think about the 3rd verse in Luther’s A Mighty Fortress.
Though hordes of devils fill the land
all threat'ning to devour us,
we tremble not, unmoved we stand;
they cannot overpow'r us.
Let this world's tyrant rage;
in battle we'll engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.
In our gospel lesson today from the 10th chapter of Luke, the 70 return with joy saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Recall that Jesus sent the 70 out two by two, to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. To greet no one on the road. To offer peace to the household and remain in that house eating and drinking what the host provides.
So the 70, equipped with nothing but the word of God and the accompaniment of sibling, go forth in the name of God to share the peace of the Lord. To deliver to every town and place a message of God’s good peace and the promise of God's favor. And what they experience, what they encounter, what they witness, is the power of God’s word to bring demons to submission. To bring light to the darkness. To bring hope to the despair. To proclaim favor, justice, mercy, peace, and love.
And so in the celebration Michael and All Angels, rejoicing with the return of the 70, we might remember and reclaim the power of our witness in the world. That we too, have been called by God, claimed in the waters, equipped with every good gift, sent forth into the world to deliver a message.
That is a message of eternal hope, of grace and glory, of promise and forgiveness. It is a message that frees the captives, redeems the oppressed, lifts the lowly, and casts down the mighty. It is a message that restores kingdoms, and tears down divisions. It is a message that always, always, always acts on love and delivers good news. And friends, with the word of God on our lips, hearts, and in our actions, the demons of this world submit. They fall down. Amen.
© Pastor Daniel Locke, preached Sept. 29, 2019 @ St. Mark's JAX