December 24, 2017
4th Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:5-13, 18-19, 26-31
“The Littlest Angel”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Luke 1:5-13, 18-19, 26-31
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
THE LITTLEST ANGEL From the story by Charles Tazewell
Once upon a time—many, many years ago as time is calculated by humans, but only Yesterday in the Celestial Calendar of Heaven---There was, in Paradise, a thoroughly un-happy, and dejected cherub who was known throughout Heaven as the Littlest Angel.
He was exactly four years, six months, five days, seven hours and forty-two minutes of age when he presented himself to the Gate-keeper and waited for admittance to the Glorious Kingdom of God.
Standing defiantly, he tried to pretend that he wasn’t at all afraid. But his lower lip trembled, and another tear made a new furrow down his already tear-streaked face.
But that wasn’t all. While the kindly Gate-Keeper was entering the name in his great Book, the Littlest Angel, having left home as usual, without a handkerchief, tried to hide the telltale evidence of sniffing. A most un-angelic sound so startled the good Gate-Keeper, that he did something he had never done before in all Eternity. He spilled ink on the page!
From that moment on, the Heavenly Peace was never quite the same. The shrill, earsplitting whistle of the littlest Angel could be heard at all hours through the golden streets. It startled the Patriarch Prophets and disturbed their meditations. Yes, and on top of that, he sang off-key at the singing practice of the Heavenly Choir, spoiling its ethereal effect.
And, being so small that it seemed to take him just twice as long as anyone else to get to nightly prayers, the Littlest Angel always arrived late, and knocked everyone’s wings askew as he darted into place.
Although his behavior might have been overlooked, his appearance was even worse. It saw first whispered among the Cherubim, and then said aloud among the Angels and Archangels, that he didn’t even look like an angel!
His halo was permanently tarnished where he held onto it with one hot little hand when he ran, and he was always running. Even when he stood very still, it never behaved as a halo should. It was always slipping down over his right eye, or over his left eye. Or else it slipped off the back of his head and rolled down some Golden street just so he’d have to chase after it!
Yes, and his wings were neither useful nor ornamental. All Paradise held its breath when the Littlest Angel perched himself like a sparrow on the very edge of a cloud and prepared to take off. He would teeter this way—and that way—but, after much coaxing and a few false starts, he would shut both of his eyes, hold his freckled nose, count up to three hundred and three and then hurl himself into space.
However, owing to the fact that he forgot to move his wings, the Littlest Angel always fell head over halo!
It was also reported that whenever he was nervous, which was most of the time, he bit his wing-tips!
Now anyone can easily understand why the Littlest Angel would sooner or later have have words with the Powers that be and so he was directed to present his small self before an Angel of the Peace. The Littlest Angel combed his hair, dusted his wings and donned an almost clean garment, and then, with a heavy heart, trudged his way to the place of judgment.
He tried to postpone the ordeal by pausing a few moments to read the long list of new arrivals, although all Heaven knew he couldn’t read a word. But at last he slowly approached a doorway on which was mounted a pair of golden scales, signifying that Heavenly Justice was dispensed within. To the Littlest Angel’s great surprise, he heard a merry voice inside---singing!
The Singer, who was known as the Understanding Angel, looked down at the small cherub, and the Littlest Angel instantly tried to make himself invisible by the ingenious process of pulling his head into the collar of his garment, very much like a snapping turtle.
At that, the singer laughed a jolly, heartwarming sound and said “Oh! So you’re the one who’s been making Heaven so un-heavenly! Come here, Cherub, and tell me all about it!”
The Littlest Angel ventured a look. First one eye, and then the other eye. Suddenly, almost before he knew it, he was perched on the lap of the Understanding Angel, and was explaining how very difficult it was for a boy who suddenly finds himself transformed into an angel. Yes, and no matter what the Archangels said, he’d only swung once. Well, twice. Oh, all right then, he’d swung three times on the Golden Gates. But that was just for something to do!’’
That was the whole trouble. There wasn’t anything for a small angel to do. And he was very homesick. Not that Paradise wasn’t beautiful! But the Earth was beautiful, too! Wasn’t it created by God, Himself? There were trees to climb, and brooks to fish, and caves to play a pirate chief, the swimming hole, and sun, and rain, and dark, and dawn, and thick brown dust, so soft and warm beneath your feet!
The Understanding Angel smiled, and in his eyes shown a memory of another small boy from long ago. Then he asked the Littlest Angel what would make him most happy in Paradise. The cherub thought for a moment, and whispered in his ear. “There’s a box. I left it under my bed back home. If only I could have that.” The Understanding angel nodded his head. “You shall have it,” he promised, and a fleet winged Heavenly Messenger was instantly dispatched to bring the box to Paradise.
And then, in all those timeless days that followed, everyone wondered at the great change in the Littlest Angel, for, among all the cherubs in God’s Kingdom, he was the most happy. His conduct and appearance was all that any angel could wish for. And it could be said, and truly said, that he flew like an angel.
Then it came to pass that Jesus, the Son of God, was to be born of Mary, of Bethlehem, of Judea. As the Glorious tiding spread through Paradise, all the angels rejoiced and their voices were lifted to herald the Miracle of Miracles, the coming of the Christ Child.
The Angels and Archangels, the Seraphim and Cherubim, the Gate-Keeper, the Wing-maker, yes, and even the Halo-Smith put aside their usual tasks to prepare their gifts for the Blessed Infant; all but the Littlest Angel. He sat himself down on the top-most step of Paradise and thought.
What could he give that would be most acceptable to the Son of God? At one time, he dreamed of composing a hymn of adoration. But the Littlest Angel was lacking in musical talent.
Then he got excited over writing a prayer! A prayer that would live forever in the hearts of humans, because it would be the first prayer ever to be heard by the Christ Child. But the Littlest Angel was too small to read or write. “What, on earth and in heaven, could a small angel give that would please the Holy Infant?”
The time of the Miracle was very close at hand when the Littlest Angel at last decided on his gift. On the Day of Days, he proudly brought it from its hiding place behind a cloud, and humbly placed it before the Throne of God. It was only a small, rough unsightly box, but inside were all those wonderful things that even a Child of God would treasure!
But it was a small, rough, unsightly box - lying among all those other glorious gifts from all the Angels of Paradise! It contained gifts of such radiant splendor and beauty that Heaven and all the Universe were lighted by their glory. And when the Littlest Angel saw this, he suddenly wished he might reclaim his shabby gift. It was ugly, it was worthless. If only he could hide it away from the sight of God before it was even noticed!
But it was too late! The Hand of God moved slowly over all that bright array of shining gifts, then paused, then dropped, then came to rest on the lowly gift of the Littlest Angel!
The Littlest Angel trembled as the box was opened, and there, before the Eyes of God and all God’s Heavenly Host, was what he offered to the Christ Child. There was a butterfly with golden wings, captured on bright summer day on the hills above Jerusalem, and a sky-blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door, and two white stones, found on a muddy river bank, where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers. And, at the bottom of the box, a limp, tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who had died as he had lived, in absolute love and infinite devotion.
The Littlest Angel wept. Why had he ever thought the box was so wonderful? Why had he dreamed that such utterly useless things would be loved by the Blessed Infant? He turned to run and hide, but he stumbled and fell, and with a cry and clatter of halo, rolled in a ball to the very foot of the Heavenly Throne! There was an ominous silence in the Celestial City, a silence complete and undisturbed save for the sobbing of the Littlest Angel.
Suddenly, The Voice of God, like Divine Music, rose and swelled through Paradise! And the Voice of God spoke, saying, “Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases me most. Its contents are of the Earth and of men, and My Son is born to be King of both. These are the things My Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretful, will leave behind when His task is done. I accept this gift in the Name of the Child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem.”
There was a breathless pause, and then the rough box of the Littlest Angel began to glow with a bright, unearthly light, then the light became a lustrous flame, and the flame became a radiant brilliance that blinded the eyes of all the angels!
None but the Littlest Angel saw it rise from its place before the Throne of God. And he, and only he, watched it arch the firmament to stand and shed its clear, white, beckoning light over a stable where a Child was Born.
There it shone on that Night of Miracles, and its light was reflected down the centuries deep in the heart of all mankind. Not many know, but now you do, that the lowly gift of the Littlest Angel was what humanity would forever call “The shining star of Bethlehem!”
May all our humble gifts, at any time of year, so please God and provide light in the darkness. Amen.