In the Christmas story there are more than a few angels present. One speaks to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and another in a dream to Joseph. Angels appear to the shepherds, sending them to the place where the Messiah is born. An angel even brings the news of another unexpected birth to an extended family member; and it is an angel who gives the news to the new parents that they need to leave Bethlehem because of the execution ordered by the king of all the baby boys in the area. It’s a given that angels play a huge role in this birth narrative shared so often during this holiday season.
I have never seen an angel, not the kind giving birth announcements or prophesying to me in my dreams. I have never seen a chorus of heavenly messengers fill the sky or sing the Hallelujah chorus. I have, however, known some angels, known ordinary folks who somehow deliver extraordinary grace.
Writer Frederick Buechner also knew someone who took the role of angel and in telling the story he writes that the visitor came during a very dark time in his life, a time when his child was terribly sick and a time when he, distraught from his anxiety about her, was also sick too. It was a friend who called telling him that he wasn’t in North Carolina as Buechner expected him to be but rather had traveled 800 miles to Vermont to be with him. He traveled all that distance without telling Buechner that he was even coming, traveled all that way without even knowing for sure if his friend would even be there.
Buechner was there and he writes, “I have never forgotten how he came all that distance and I’m sure he has never forgotten it either.” He also writes that as far as he remembers there was nothing really religious about their time together and that even though they were both ministers, there was no real talk of God, no real prayers spoken. And yet, he notes, “I know that for a little time both of us were healed.”
I think about this story a lot especially in this season of angels and I am reminded that I’m as lucky as Frederick Buechner because I have friends like his too. There are people in my life who have shown up at my hour of need and with just the right gift of conversation or silence or chocolate pie. I have friends who have shown me over and over that divine messages arrive at my doorstep or across the phone lines when I need them most.
They may not sing in some heavenly chorus or bring me a miraculous birth announcement but they come. With coloring books or jokes, casseroles or tissue, a hand to hold and a shoulder upon which to lean, they come. And every time one appears I think, here is an angel, announcing the presence of my God.
Lynne Hinton is a co-pastor of Mt. Hope United Church of Christ in Whitsett (Guilford County) and author. Her newest book is called Traveling Light. Learn more: www.lynnehinton.com