- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

Angels seem to be everywhere at Christmas, appearing on Christmas trees and in manger scenes. They are the subject of carols and holiday films.

However, few people take time to think about who angels really are, said Judith MacNutt, vice president and founding director of Christian Healing Ministries in Jacksonville, Fla.

“We always try to go back to the Bible as a point of truth,” Mrs. MacNutt said. “There are angels from the book of Genesis through Revelation.”

Gabriel, who first appears in the Book of Daniel, announces the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus in the New Testament. When Joseph considers divorcing Mary, an angel tells him in a dream to marry her. An angel and company of the heavenly host appear to shepherds, announcing the birth of a Savior.

Although angels could have been singing at the Nativity — as portrayed in such hymns as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” — the Scriptures never mention the spirits harmonizing at the birth of Christ, Mrs. MacNutt said.

After Jesus’ birth, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him to take his family and escape to Egypt, Mrs. MacNutt said. An angel informs him in a dream when it is safe to return to Nazareth.

“We talk about angels to encourage people,” Mrs. MacNutt said. “There is a spiritual battle going on. There are forces of darkness. God created angels to battle on behalf of people. In the book of Hebrews, it talks about angels as ‘ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.’ ”

Each person has a guardian angel for life, according to Catholic theology. It is not uncommon for people to mention encounters with angels, especially near death, Mrs. MacNutt said.

“The Reverend John G. Paton, pioneer missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, told a thrilling story involving the protective care of angels. Hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them,” the Rev. Billy Graham writes in his book “Angels: God’s Secret Agents.”

“A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Jesus Christ, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them,” Mr. Graham writes. “The chief replied in surprise, ‘Who were all those men you had with you there?’ The missionary answered, ‘There were no men there; just my wife and I.’ The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard — hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands.”

Once a 7-year-old boy suffering from depression came to a healing service, Mrs. MacNutt said. After receiving prayer, she said, the boy described seeing a large man in the air over the altar.

Another time, a 14-year-old girl ran away, and her parents prayed for an angel to bring her home, Mrs. MacNutt said. After returning, the girl said that she tried to enter a crack house, but a large man she believed to be an angel blocked her entrance and told her to go home.

One of Mrs. MacNutt’s favorite stories is that of a mysterious man who helped her former nannie, Edna Nau. During the 1970s, Ms. Nau’s car broke down on the highway. After asking God for help, an old truck pulled up with a tall man dressed in jeans and a work shirt who changed the tire.

“She looked at him when he finished, and she said, ‘I know who you are,’ ” Mrs. MacNutt said. “He said, ‘I know you do.’ He got in the truck, and it disappeared.”

It is important to emphasize that angels should not be worshipped, said the Rev. James Emery White, president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

“They are creatures created by God,” Mr. White said. “They are not gods themselves or in any way on equal footing with God.”

Angels, who are primarily messengers of God, are not human, he said. The Bible says they are spirits with extraordinary strength that can take on different forms, such as human bodies. In the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, one angel kills 185,000 Assyrian warriors.

In Genesis, God places an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance of the Garden of Eden. In the New Testament, angels tend to Jesus in the desert and in Garden of Gesthemane. They appear at the tomb after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension to heaven. The book of Revelation describes their involvement in the Second Coming.

The Bible mentions that legions of angels exist, Mr. Smith said. Only Gabriel and Michael are mentioned in the canon by name. Michael is known for bringing a message to Daniel in the Old Testament. He fights a dragon in the book of Revelation. Raphael, an angel of healing, appears in the book of Tobit in the Catholic Apocryphal Scriptures.

Although angels traditionally are pictured with two wings, the sixth chapter of Isaiah describes seraphs with six wings. In Ezekiel, “a likeness as the appearance of fire” is generally considered to be an angel.

“Angels care very much about our lives,” Mr. White said. “They support our efforts to follow Christ.”

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a fifth-century theologian, categorizes angels in his work, “The Celestial Hierarchy,” said Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, an adjunct professor and core faculty of art and culture in the liberal studies program at Georgetown University.

The Areopagite describes the heavenly beings based on the writings of the church fathers and the Bible, she says. Many of the characteristics he mentions have been portrayed in artwork.

Seraphim, cherubim and thrones are thought to be the first hierarchy, she said. They are respectively known as red, gold or blue, and green. The second hierarchy of angels are called dominations, virtues and powers. Dominations are usually white. Virtues carry red roses for the passion of Christ. Powers wear armor, as victorious warriors.

Principalities, archangels and angels are grouped as the third hierarchy, she says. Principalities often are shaped like rays of light. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are listed as archangels, and angels as the lowest order and most known to men.

In the Protestant canon of the Bible, Michael is the only angel explicitly identified as an archangel, according to Jude 1:9. Lucifer is usually considered to have been an archangel before his fall.

“Angels always represent the possibility of a connection to God,” Ms. Apostolos-Cappadona said. “Because they are not human, they can be represented as very beautiful, not aging, not having characteristics of vanity and evil.”

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