Beyond Church 12/15/2020
Backwards Angels by Elizabeth Stone
Thanks to my children and grandchildren, my Christmas tree is up. Knowing how important it is to me, whoever comes for Thanksgiving brings the tree in, sets it up, adds lights that actually work, and decorates it. This year my son dragged in all the Christmas boxes, and his two toddler daughters helped Daddy and Grandpa decorate. When the average height of the decorators is about two feet, we have a superabundance of ornaments on the lower branches, and some of the angels are, well, backwards. One child put all of her ornaments on one branch, the other spread hers across maybe three. But they were so proud, and they had such a good time. It is expected because they are small, and immature, and super cute.
Christmas brings us all back home, if not physically then at least emotionally. Most of us have wonder-filled memories of childhood Christmases, and some do not, but the longing for home, for a simpler time, for love and joy, for a safe place at the holidays, is universal. Christmas is, after all, about love; God’s love that sent His one and only Son for us, the greatest gift, the indescribable gift. As we grow up, we become the providers for Christmas joy to the younger generation, the ones who are responsible for the simple, safe, love-filled celebration for the children, so I have to ask, are your angels backwards?
The author of Hebrews calls us to mature faith in Christ. The Jewish believers have become dull of hearing, and have stalled out in their faith-walk. All their angels are backwards and in the same spot. They haven’t grown up in Christ, they are still drinking milk, they haven’t advanced to the solid spiritual food of the mature. Over and over they need to hear the basic principles of the oracles of God, over and over they need to review the discernment that makes them sharp enough to tell good from evil. Their mature correspondent reminds them about Jesus’ time on earth, and points them to His prayers of Gethsemane and His passion:
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Milchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)
What is striking about this is: Jesus was heard. God heard every prayer that Jesus spoke, every request that Jesus made when He was on earth. He was heard because of His reverence for His Father. And He obeyed, not because it was easy, but because the goal was that He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. Like our Savior, we too are heard, and we also must learn obedience by constant practice, by opening our ears to the deep things of God so we can discern good from evil, and do the good. Mature Christians are invested in God’s purposes, and over time, we learn that those purposes always include His very best for us.
My granddaughters will grow up, and will know the backside of an angel from the front, and will be able to reach the highest branches. Will they understand the reality of Christmas? Will they find their own way to the Source of eternal salvation? Only if we who know Christ have open ears to His Word, and are living the example of prayer and obedience, and only if we tell them. It is still true that we who are mature create the love and joy of Christmas for the young. You can move the ornaments around after they are asleep, but our witness, our sharing Jesus’ birth story, our worship with them, and above all our walk of obedience will call children to the Christ-child for eternity, which is the great WHY of Christmas.