A is for Angels

Friday 25 November 2011

There is much excitement in the Green household this half term because Darling Daughter has been cast as the Angle Gabriel in her school Nativity Play. The role of Gabriel is rather like that of the Pantomime Dame or Principal Boy, in that its a gender reversal role. Gabriel is male but is more often than not played by a girl.

It is of course an important part in the traditional Nativity, hence the outset of Proud Parent Syndrome. And it is because of the vital part they play in the Christmas story that angels have become so associated with the festive season.

The word 'angel' comes from a Greek word meaning 'messenger'. In the Bible, angels are represented as immortal divine beings, who act as intermediaries between God and humankind. Traditionally, pictures and poems on angels portray them as having human bodies with wings sprouting from their backs. The wings are said to symbolize innocence, virtue, purity, peace and love, qualities which taken together place the angels above humans, although they are still under God.

Nine ranks of angels are recorded in the Bible, with Seraphim and Cherubim angels being at the top of the rankings (as it were). Within this heavenly hierarchy, the chief angels are the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. However, it is interesting to note that Christian doctrine about angels evolved most rapidly between the years AD 1100 and AD 1200. An example of this change in theological thought can be seen in the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Angels were, of course, instrumental in birth of Jesus Christ and hence play an important part in Christmas celebration and festivities. It was the Archangel Gabriel who told Mary she was to bear God's son. Another angel informed Joseph that he should marry Mary and look after the Christ. Angels were the ones that brought the news of Christ's birth to the wider world, via the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.

According to one particularly twee legend, God appointed a small group of tiny angels, who were just learning their angel ways, to watch over Joseph and Mary on their journey to Bethlehem. These tiny angels did the best they could but failed to help the couple find shelter in the infamously over-crowded inn, so the Holy Family were forced to make do with the stable.

Nonetheless, these tiny angels were so excited that they were to witness the birth of God's Only Son that they flew closer to the Earth and sang sweetly. The fastest among them caught sight of the newborn child from stable's roof and instantly understood their mission was to herald the birth. They were so filled with joy and mirth that they burst into a glorious thanksgiving song that reached the heavens and was so melodious that it could be heard all over the Earth.

Will there be a glorious, melodious announcement of Christ's birth in Darling Daughter's Nativity play? I'm just praying Archangel Gabriel remembers her lines.

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Stop by again on Monday to see what nugget of Christmas lore I shall be unearthing next. And remember, you can find many such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway? - and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.


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