“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
[Editor’s Note: The festival of St. Michael and All Angels is observed on September 29th. The homily included in this devotion was preached by Pastor Estes on September 30th.]
In the name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Matthew 18:1–11 (ESV)
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
The most common topper on a Christmas tree is not a star, but an angel. They’re placed atop the tree as a homage to the angel Gabriel who visited Mary and Joseph to bring news of the child conceived by the Holy Spirit. Sitting high above us the Christmas angel also reminds us of the messenger that announced the gospel to lowly shepherds and the host of angels that sang of the peace with God and goodwill toward men the Christ brings.
We don’t know what the various kinds of angels mentioned in the Scriptures actually look like. That makes me wonder if we’d adorn our Christmas trees with them if we really knew. The Bible says that the sight of the good angels in fact terrify us. There most common opening greeting to us is “Do not fear” for that reason. If they did not reassure us we wouldn’t understand that they’re here for our good, not our harm.
What’s so frightening about the angels? There’s certainly something about their appearance that is different that startles us. It’s in fact the good angels that cause the most fear initially. Adam and Eve were not afraid of the evil angel Satan when they first encountered him? In fact, Paul warned that “Satan masquerades as an angel of light” in 2 Corinthians 11:14. Notice Paul does not say the evil one is an angel of light, but rather he’s a phony. He makes out like he’s one of the good angels, but he’s duplicitous. He makes the darkness look like light for those he desires to deceive. Jesus said Satan was not good at all, instead “he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
He’s convinced our flesh of the lies sadly. We all have a sinful nature and that is why so often we confuse darkness for light, evil for good. Satan is very good at making us think his way is best, just as he did at the beginning with Adam and Eve. Martin Luther rightly labeled him the “Prince of darkness” and had many choice insults for the evil one. Luther taught it we good to overcome that evil messenger the devil with contempt, not by presumption, but by faith in Christ who has bound the devil and assured his destruction.
So Luther wasn’t afraid to toy with the devil. He said, “If Satan does not stop vexing me with my sins, I reply: “Dear devil, I have heard the record, but I have committed still more sins…put them down too…” If Luther still felt the weight of his sins he would go on, “With contempt I say to him, “Holy Satan, pray for me! You never have done anything evil and alone are holy. Go to God and acquire grace for yourself. If you want to make me righteous, I tell you: physician, heal yourself.”
We saints can harangue the Devil and demons because we know the truth about them. The archangel Michael showed Satan and his minions the door in our lesson from Revelation. Michael tossed them all out upon the victorious entry of Jesus Christ. Satan does not stand in God’s court like he did in the time of Job being able to attempt his accusations at the judgment seat. Rather, the devil was cast to earth. Here he snarls and bites and tries to have his prey, but we know one little word can fell him. The word of Christ. The promise of Jesus that gives forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Having this life in Christ today we thank him for his good angels like Michael, Gabriel, and all the rest. We remember that the Bible suggests that we humans, or at least some of us at certain times, have our own guardian angels watching out for us.
That obviously applies to children as we learn in our gospel lesson today. The word children as Christ means it includes others like the poor, the neglected, and the despised. Their angels always see God’s face, says our Lord. God watches over those who are least. The last come first. That’s how important they are to God.
So, we can understand why Jesus has such strong warnings about seducing and enticing these others to sin. If you harm their faith the judgment for you is much harsher. It’s better that we have never lived than for this happen.
When Jesus points to a child when he was asked who was greatest in the kingdom, it’s because a child in ancient times had no standing, no rights, no kind of leading position. That’s what we all must become to enter the kingdom of heaven. We come to him with no claim of having deserved his grace. Only those who come small, like that, come into the heavenly kingdom of God.
St. Michael and All Angels is a day to remember with joy and to pray in thanksgiving that the angels do their work well and on our behalf protecting us from countless spiritual enemies. They guard us from the Accuser and his seductions, so that you rest assured that your name is written in God’s book in heaven. They are Christ’s servants, another gift He gives to protect you from Satan and to assure you your salvation is sealed. Your life is blood bought and angel guarded. And for this may we give all glory to God in heaven.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth
as it is in heaven;
give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory
forever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus + Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.