The belief in, and study of angels, as well as their depiction in art and sculpture by artists, is almost universal and spans the centuries. Writings about angels and artistic interpretations appear in early Hebrew and Christian traditions, in classical mythology and philosophy and in almost all the major religions; Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism and Islam.
Although their role has differed over time and across cultures, the central belief is shared: angels belong to the world of ethereal beings who serve as intermediaries between the ordinary earthbound life of humans and the transcendent world of the divine. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition the word angel comes from the Greek ‘aggelos’, which translates as the Hebrew ‘mal’akh’ both meaning messenger.
Winged messengers are seen on 4th century Greek urns, in ancient Sumerian carvings, Egyptian tombs and Assyrian reliefs. Paintings of angels by early Christian artists look like transfigured ancient gods and goddesses, but in all visual renderings we are able to recognise the angelic even though their physical nature varies. Artists down the ages have envisaged angels in a myriad of ways, dependent on their cultural background and the extremes of their imaginations. We may all have our own ideas of what an angel might look like, a winged fairy, a bright light, a shimmering vague presence, a bright star, a vivid dream: but one perception remains, that angels in whatever shape, guise or form, are God’s messengers, imparting God’s will to those who would listen; bringers of good news, imparting wisdom or direction, or sounding a warning.
The Bible tells of numerous appearances of angels in both the old and the new testaments. There is a hierarchy; archangels, seraphims, cherubims, a choir, and a heavenly host. In the Nativity story there are several key appearances of angels and we will be highlighting these in the Advent installation; the annunciation, the message to the shepherds, the warning to the Magi and the instruction to Joseph to flee to Egypt.
School visits to the church are increasingly popular especially at the times of major festivals and there will be a few special, temporary displays around the church to help the children understand more about the role of God’s messengers. We plan to take this theme forward to our Lent Art & Spirituality display as we explore the ways in which we can all be God’s angels as he uses us to inform others, sometimes in significant ways and sometimes in ways we may never know about; to bring comfort and to change lives.
We hope and pray that you will enjoy our Advent display, that you will have time to reflect and respond as we all wait and prepare for the coming of the promised saviour.
This article, written by Linda Scott and Anne Morse, featured in the Advent 2019 edition of The Bridge – the magazine for All Saints’ Church in Marlow. Pick up your free copy in church or download it here.