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Sunday, December 11, 2022: “Listening to Angels”

Sunday School Activities

Listening to Angels—Matthew 2: 1-11
(December 11, 2022—3rd Sunday in Advent)

Fear and anxiety are epidemic in our times. American writer and television producer Lena Dunham says this about her relationship to fear, “I have only the vaguest memory of a life before fear. Every morning when I wake up there is one blissful second before I look around the room and remember my daily terrors.”1 Fear is part of the human condition, since scripture is a very human document, fear plays a large role in the Christmas story. It hits me this week that fear is one of the most common themes in Luke and Matthew’s stories of Jesus’ birth. Four times between the two gospels angels make appearnces to people telling them not to be afraid. We hear one today, but there are also Angel appearances to Joseph, Mary, Zechariah the father of John the baptist and to the shepherds.
That is why it is so important to listen to angels, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Don’t be afraid Joseph, I’ve come to tell you that God is with you, don’t listen to those voices of fear and control. God is breaking in, breaking all the rules about what’s socially acceptable and what’s not to fulfill the promises made to your people. Don’t be afraid Joseph, take Mary as your wife, have faith and see.’
In scripture, angels are simply messengers from God, that’s their role. We could say, angels are with us still, pointing to and revealing the sacred and the holy in our lives. Angels are those that tell us not to be afraid, because they see what we cannot, will not or are unable to see. Angels see the divine image in each of us, no matter how covered up it is with hurts, betrayals, violations, resentments, ego or whatever else. Angels see the potential within us for birthing God in our world. Angels come to us in the most inconspicuous forms.
This is a story of a friend of mine who grows up in a very difficult family situation, one rife with mental illness, rigid reliousity and abuse of all kinds. It is a chaotic, and soul crushing household. She has few memories that evoke anything other than anxiety and sorrow. One rare, hopeful memory does stand out however. It’s one of the few things that speak to her of the possibility of a different world. She remembers a neighbour, someone older than her parents. My friend has no idea how much this neighbour knows about what goes on in her home, but she knows enough that every so often this neighbour calls my friend onto her porch, offers her a cookie, pats her on the knee, holds her hand, and just sits with her. To my friend, this neighbour is a lifeline. In this simple act of hospitality and presence my friend hears the message that she is worthy enough that someone wants to give her a cookie and spend some time with her. To my friend this neighbour is an angel piercing the fear, bringing a message from God; “Don’t be afraid, I’m here with you, I see sacred beauty in you, I see the image of the Creator that is buried under all the pain and confusion.”
Here’s another angel story. It comes from my favourite podcast called Heavyweight. It’s a podcast that takes it’s listeners through someone’s unresolved story. It could be a confrontation someone’s been putting off, a question someone’s been afraid to ask, something that’s been left unsaid. Something unresolved that’s having a significant impact on the person’s life.2
Recently, Heavyweight features Stephanie’s story. Stephanie grows up in this little town in Texas. For lack of anything else to do, church and books become her two, great loves, and they coexist peacefully for years until the day her beloved Church decides to ban one of her beloved books, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Stephanie takes it upon herself to write a speech, like a manifesto against the censorship of the book, which she shares widely in her school. Its gets the church very upset. The angrier, the church gets, the more Stephanie starts to realize that she doesn’t agree with a lot of what the church believes. She gets into a pretty big argument about homosexuality in the Bible at the church. This is before Stephanie realizes she isn’t straight, all she knows is that she doesn’t agree with the church.
Stephanie is questioning everything she’s ever known about religion and God and begins experiencing panic attacks, multiple times a day. It’s during this uncertain period of searching that while out driving in town Stephanie notices, something new, a small house and strikingly atop the houses’ roof sit large scale replicas of books. It feels like it fell out of the sky. It turns out it’s a bookstore called Another Roadside Attraction. Stephanie begins to frequent it regularly spending her babysitting money on books by Salinger and Vonnegut and Poe.
Re-calling that time Stephanie says, “It almost feels like magical realism, feels like opening a curtain and going into another world and the moment I step inside It just feels like I belong there. It is the only place that I don’t feel judged and the only place I don’t feel panicked. it feels like a chapel almost. I don’t know if the owner knows how important this is to me just to have these little moments of peace. It’s hard to explain, it’s a time where I really need to feel like there is going to be a world outside of the one I am living in. It makes me feel like the world is bigger and that there is something beyond what I am going through.” Then one day without warning or notice Another Roadside Attraction just vanishes. Stephanie drives by and there is a closed sign in the window, she is devastated.
The podcast continues with many attempts by the host to track down the owner of this mythical bookstore. Eventually getting a response from someone named Megan. Megan turns out to be a close friend of the former owner, Pam. Megan writes to the show’s host, “I wish I had a happier story to share.” It turns out that five years ago, Pam dies by suicide. Megan explains that when Pam is younger she spends many years, working in bookstores and it is her dream to open one of her own someday. Another Roadside Attraction closes because of money issues and personal setbacks. What follows are a
series of tragedies—death, illness, divorce—that lead her to a deep despair and ultimately death.
Hearing Stephanie’s story and her mission to find Pam, Megan says, “Pam would have been so moved to know what the store had meant to Stephanie.” Megan shares that in spite of Pam’s passing five years ago, still speaks to her friend all the time. Megan speaks to Pam immediately after hearing about Stephanie, sharing her story and concludes with, “See people love you, you made a difference. You really did do something that made life better for someone else.”3
Angels are those who encourage us to be our true selves, to incarnate God according to our essence, our gifts and passions. Sometimes by the simple act of leading by example. Angels see possibilities for others to express the sacred within them. Sometimes angels do this overtly, with intention and purpose but I would hazard to say that mnost of the time, like in our two stories, angels aren’t even aware the sacred role they’re playing in someone’s life. Angels today echo the message of the angel in our faith story, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid”. Do not be afraid to play your part in the birthing of God in the world. Maybe you’re sitting among angels right now. Maybe you’re angel to someone. The truth is God needs our help, you have a part to play in the birthing of love in the world. What greater joy could there be? Don’t be afraid, the time is almost here, you’ll see. Our Advent journey continues. Amen.
Rev. Joe Gaspar
3 Stephanie’s story, Another Roadside Attraction, episode 49 of the Heavyweight podcast can be found on Spotify (