One Sunday morning in 1999, I had just finished giving a sermon at the church where I was pastoring when a woman walked up to me and said she had a story to tell me. She said she'd found out that week that her husband had been cheating on her for a number of years and that he was leaving her. She was devastated, and that morning had decided she would go to a church service. She drove to our church building, parked her car and then sat there, exhausted, overwhelmed, saying to herself, "I don't have the strength to even get out of the car and go in there."
Just then, she heard a knock on her window. She looked up to see a parking lot attendant in an orange vest smiling at her. She rolled down her window and the man asked her if he could help her into the building. She agreed, and as they walked he talked about how sometimes you don't even have "the strength to get out of the car and go in there."
After the service, she went outside to thank the man for his kindness and extraordinary timing. She couldn't find him. She then found the person in charge of all the parking lot attendants and told him who she was looking for, giving a physical description. He told her nobody who fit that description was working that morning...
So who was he? An angel?
Recently, I was at a dinner party and someone said something about angels and we started telling stories like the one I just told. You've heard these kinds of stories, right? Usually they revolve around someone in need who gets help at just the right time, in just the right way, and when they go to find the person to thank him or her, the person can't be located...
Now, here's the interesting part: These weren't overtly religious people telling the stories at that dinner party; and yet, none of them discounted the possibility that there are angelic beings that give aid and help to people in need. Their stories didn't surprise me because, as a pastor for more than 20 years, I've heard countless stories like these from people from all walks of life.
Haven't we moved on from these sorts of myths and fairy tales? Or, are there truths in these stories we should be paying attention to? In other words: Do angels exist? Or are they fictional beings we've created to make ourselves feel better? Does it matter? And why do we find stories like these so fascinating?
We're still telling stories about angels for a number of reasons, reasons that I believe matter...
Stories about angels remind us we're not alone.
For literally thousands of years, across almost every religion and worldview, you'll find narratives about spiritual beings who work to help us. I know that, for some, the idea of angels exists somewhere between UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster, but to insist that there are no other conscious beings anywhere else in all of creation is too limiting and narrow, isn't it? Who knows who is out there? What we do know is that humans beings continue to have fascinating experiences that are very difficult to explain beyond being open to the existence of spiritual, disembodied beings that interact within our space and time.
Stories about angels remind us that the everyday struggles we all encounter are reflective of the larger struggle between good and evil.
And in this struggle, we have help. Not a day goes by that we don't hear another round of stories in the news about death and assault and violence and theft. It can be easy to feel despair, to wonder if the whole world isn't falling apart. But since humans began telling stories, they’ve described messengers sent to remind us that the last word hasn't been spoken, hope is real and even the worst situations can turn around and produce something beautiful.
Stories about angels remind us that God/the Universe/Being/Higher Power/Whatever You Call It is on our side.
In fact, the word angel historically means messenger. It's someone who comes to help you and tell you something. In the stories in the scriptures about angels, there's a message the angels bring, something they always say FIRST. You know what it is? Fear not, God is with you and then they tell the person what they're being called to do. Fear not. That's the message, over and over again. Whatever is in your way, whatever is holding you down, whatever has you paralyzed with terror, fear not. You can beat this thing. You can prevail. You don't need to shrink back from anyone or anything.
Stories about angels remind us that we each have something to do, a role to play, a calling, and there's no need to have any fear about jumping in and doing it.
That's why we're still telling these stories, thousands of years later. We'll take all the inspiring, empowering, uplifting, soul-stirring help we can get.