{The Kellam kitchen cupboard is filled with mugs, and I’m writing each day in Lent 2017 about one of them…or at least on themes suggested by a glance at the designs.}

Disclaimer: this mug was banned from the cupboard when the Christmas season came to an end, sometime around January 6. It, and others of its ilk, were packed away and carried to the attic, along with the 30 year old artificial tree. We rescued this coffee mug especially for this blog.

It made my list because it doesn’t have Santa on it, nor doedsc07430.jpgs it have a holiday-decorated cow saying Moo-ey Christmas. I do have some standards here. But, still, this cartoony angel is a bit too cute for my purposes today. Angels are supposed to be scary, aren’t they? At least the ones who show up in the Bible. When they suddenly appear, I’m guessing there were double takes, maybe some cowering, certainly fright. Because often when an angel shows up in the scriptures, the first message is, “Don’t be afraid.”

Who’d be afraid of this golden-haired, rosy-cheeked, red-winged cherub? Or, who’d flinch at the sight of any angel that looked like the popular images seen in “Angels Magazine?” Wispy, vaporous, lucent Tinkerbells! “Look up in the sky! Doesn’t it look like an angel? Get the camera, Roscoe! We can submit it to the magazine.” Once published, some readers will think it’s lovely and angel-like. But others will swear a real heavenly visitor hovered above, protecting, guiding, or just watching over somebody, or all of us.

But then there’s that “Do not fear!” thing. In Luke 1and 2, Zechariah was terrified, Mary was perplexed, shepherds were scared witless, and the angels tried to calm them, telling them to not be afraid. Interestingly, there were no physical descriptions of said angels. I’ve often speculated that they may have been frighteningly ugly to have made people so fearful. A male visage with three days’ growth of dark beard, beady but piercing eyes, Saturday morning work-in-the-shed rumpled clothes? Nothing wispy about them!

About these beings, the main thing is that they exist and they have purpose. To the first point, I quote Frederick Buechner:

Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well. Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t. An angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like, “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or “I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.” [from Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC]

Except for the “glittering wings” part, I like that. And I am convinced.

As for purpose, there is the message piece. In fact, the word angel has a derivation that means “messenger.” So, angels bear God’s messages to us. (The wings are necessary if you still believe in the three-storied universe of earth here, heaven way up there, and hell on fire in the core of the planet. Coming from so far UP, the wings were a requirement. As for the red wings on the angel pictured on the mug above? Hockey fans will see a connection with the Detroit Red Wings…for some reason.) Since this is obviously not a treatise on angelology (odd — spellcheck didn’t even flinch there), for my purposes here I note that the message is as Buechner put it: to wish us well, and to start by telling us to not be afraid!

Here we are, though, with lots to fear. We have loved ones and we worry. We read headlines, and we fret. The whole news cycle is little more than a warning sign of desperate times ahead, like tomorrow or “next time.” It may be true that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but fear is fed every day by world events, powerful bullies, greed, vengeance, and weaponry. To say nothing of one’s personal anxieties.

In Walter Brueggemann’s Lenten devotional book A Way Other than Our Own, the scholar quotes the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear [says God], for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is. 43:1) And then we have the commentary on what it means to trust God’s word, whether it comes from angels or prophets:

  • The unafraid are open to the neighbor, while the frightened are defending themselves from the neighbor.

  • The unafraid are generous in the community, while the frightened, in their anxiety, must keep and store and accumulate, to make themselves safe.

  • The unafraid commit acts of compassion and mercy, while the frightened do not notice those in need.

  • The unafraid are committed to justice for the weak and the poor, while the frightened see them only as threats.

  • The unafraid pray in the morning, care through the day, and rejoice at night in thanks and praise, while the frightened are endlessly restless and dissatisfied.

So wrote Walter Brueggemann in his book (published by our Presbyterian publishing arm Westminster John Knox Press, ©2017). By the way, an angel just reminded me that such messengers show up at the empty tomb on Easter morning. You can guess that they say first: “Don’t be … alarmed.”

That noted, I will close with the same words with which Brueggemann closes his meditation: So, dear people, each of you: Do not fear!

{And thanks to my friend Bill Carter for the gift of Brueggemann’s book, and for the gift of his friendship.}