When you come up to communion this evening, you need to keep your eyes open. There’s plenty to look at near the front of the church – lovely decorations, candles, baubles and twinkling lights. But keep your eyes peeled for a couple of strange, ethereal, beautiful creatures standing on either side of the altar.
Strange, ethereal and beautiful.
And I’m not referring to Cedric and myself.
On either side of the altar, you will see a couple of angels that were rescued from the crypt a while ago. They were covered in grime and cobwebs and I thought they needed to be dusted down and polished up. I thought they would probably be happier joining us for our celebrations tonight than languishing in the darkness of the crypt with the spiders and the damp.
It turns out that they originally were carved for another church in the diocese and when that mission of God’s people closed everything was dispersed. Homes were presumably found for all the other chattels but there was nowhere for the angels to go. So they came here. Swooping in from one part of this great city to reside here at St Mary’s.
It is that image of Angels swooping and hovering over the city that I want you to hold in your imagination tonight as I am preaching. For if angels can come to girls like Mary or carpenters like Joseph then they can come to everyone. Indeed, the passages of scripture that we read at this time of year are full of angelic appearances. No part of the nativity is without them. They seem to be everywhere.
A little while ago, I was asked to take part in a video recording. A production company was making a video of something called the Glasgow Gospel. It was being filmed in locations across the city and was an attempt to show the stories of the gospels located here in this place, where we live. The thing that made it particularly special was that the dialogue was all to be in Scots. Or perhaps more accurately in Glaswegian. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be given a speaking part. I cannot tell you how delighted I was to be given just one line to say.
I also cannot tell you how exhausted I was after having done take after take after take trying to say the words in the way the director wanted. Somehow my accent was not quite right. Somehow the words of the Glasgow gospel just didn’t sound right, even though, as I patiently explained to the director, my accent ought to pass muster because I went to school just 5 miles from here.
He was unimpressed. In the end, after yet one more attempt he said, “Just give us that line in English.”
I nailed it. One take and we were done.
You know, the day they film the Bearsden gospel, directors will be beating a path to my door.
But the thing that I remember about that video shoot was that they did not simply want to video me. They also wanted to take still shots of the two angels that stand in front of the altar tonight. Not content with them, they went roaming around the church looking for more. Indeed they were particularly pleased to find Gabriel high a-flutter up above the high altar giving his surprising news to Mary.
I discovered that they were making a video collage for the end of the DVD. Everywhere they went in the city they were looking for angels and photographing them. They told me that they had found images of angels all over the city. Great roof bosses in the University of Glasgow’s chapel carved into angelic form. Angels in stone on public buildings. Angels with downcast faces on memorials to the tragedy and pity of war. Angels in stone, in paint, in wood. Angels in parks, in churches, in public squares.
Now, I don’t care what you think about angels. Belief in angels has never been more common, so maybe you’re in the business of seeing them daily. More likely in a congregation like this is that you accept that angels are mythological beings that are unlikely to stop you in your tracks. If that is what you think, don’t let that stop you hearing the news that the angels bring. For angels dance and sing from the moment when our own holy imagination meets God’s divine creativity. The message that the angels bring is planted deep within you. Where your own imagination and God’s creativity unite, hope is born.
Hope for a world that needs hope. Hope for a world that needs the Good News that only you can bring.
The important thing in scripture is never the arrival of an Angel in a story, but always the news that the angel comes to impart.
An angel came to a humble peasant girl Mary and gave her dreams of a better world. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid” and gave her a song of justice to sing.
An angel came to Joseph the worker and told him that God was not in the business of scandal or disgrace and gave him the courage to stick with Mary with his head held high. The angel said, “do not be afraid” and gave him purpose, direction and a vocation to be a human father to the child.
And an angel came to ordinary shepherds and proclaimed the birth of the babe in Bethlehem saying to them, “do not be afraid” and sending them tumbling over one another in a rush down to the village to see what thing had come to pass there.
But what comes to pass here? What do Glasgow’s angels say to you?
Angels seem to be in the habit of saying, “Do not be afraid”.
If angels hover over this city this night, they say surely say two things – firstly, “do not be afraid” and secondly, “turn your hearts towards God for God is born amongst you”.
Do not be afraid to make a proper home for the Christ Child in your heart. Do not be afraid to demand dignity for the vulnerable. Do not be afraid to cry for justice for the oppressed. Do not be afraid in your busy brutal world of kindness, gentleness and peace – for such is the way that God comes.
As you come to communion this night, see the angels by the altar and ask what news they bring. As you leave this church later, imagine Glasgow’s angels hovering over the city and strain you heart to hear the song they sing. As you face the year that is to come, may the angels prompt you to discover the babe of Bethlehem alive and in this city. For the Christmas news is that if Christ could be born in Bethlehem, then Christ can be born in your heart and bring good news to this city too.
Christ is born and all shall be well. If the other angels don’t spread the Good News fast enough in the city in which you live, then make sure you join them in their task.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.