The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. -- Luke 1:30-31 (NASB)
From Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, to a multitude of angels, these heavenly beings have always enhanced the majesty and supernatural context for the drama of the birth of our Savior. At least, for me they have.
Even as a child, I always understood that the obvious starring roles go to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. But intriguing, beautiful angels have always pointed me to God’s role in sending His son to Earth. Growing up in the 1950's, I learned about angels a couple of different ways, first through Sunday school teachers, pastors’ sermons, and the Bible.
Second – and frankly more dominant – the visual images in art, movies, and pop culture often paint angelic portraits that I never thought to question; I just accepted the delicate wings and marshmallow clouds and harps. Even today, knowing it isn’t an image that comes from Scripture, I still see wings and white robes when I think or hear the word angel.
Of course, pop culture, stage and screen, and even church dramas often mirror that gentle image. Is it wrong to continue painting that light and airy picture of angels? I think not. I don’t see that it harms or diminishes the story of the birth of Christ.
However, let me add one disclaimer here: One negative effect may be that we seldom perceive angels as strong (Psalm 103:20), wise (2 Samuel 14:20), or joyful (Luke 15:10). When Gabriel and Michael appear in Scripture, they have no lacy wings; no, they’re portrayed as anything but effeminate. They are bold, authoritative messengers from God. For example, remember the angels God sent to Abraham (Genesis 18)? They appeared as men.
And Daniel was confronted by an angel (Daniel 10) who had a face like lightning, eyes like torches of fire, arms and feet like bronze, and a voice like thunder. Such figures have been portrayed in more serious literary works. But for the most part, the softer, gentler concept is perpetuated in pop culture – gentle, winged creatures who seem to walk a fine line between the natural and the supernatural.
For three decades of reviewing movies for American Family Association, I have enjoyed many fun, family-friendly movies that debuted during the Christmas season. Few of them have measured up to The Nativity Story a few years ago. It is a breathtaking film set in biblical times and closely follows the scriptural narrative – quite a contrast to the less biblical Christmas features. Our AFA Journal review said it “brings a sense of humanity to the supernatural birth of Christ by delving into the lives of Mary and Joseph.” It is, indeed, an emotional and moving Christmas movie.
However, most Christmas movies are much more secular in tone, though they do often have commendable themes. One example I recall is Christmas Angel, in which a young woman assists her new boss, who fancies himself a secret Santa, helping others anonymously. No, it doesn’t reveal the main reason we celebrate this season, but maybe it does plant a seed in our minds of a way to give to others with no expectation of return.
Just last week, I watched Heaven Sent, a new movie in which a young couple faces divorce after a nine-year marriage – until Taylor, an angel in the body of a beautiful 8-year-old blonde – with wings – appears in their home and takes them on as her project. The narrative is light and humorous; yet on another level, it evokes deeper principles regarding forgiveness, compassion, and reconciliation. This one was scheduled to debut on Lifetime Movie Network December 3 at 8pm ET. If you miss it, I’m certain it will re-air a number of times.
Watching the mischievous young Taylor made me consider again the broad range of ways in which angels are depicted in art and culture through the centuries. While I would prefer models based on the few biblical guidelines we have, I am not offended by the wings-and-white-robe template of contemporary Christmas stories. In fact, I sometimes wonder if that may be the uniform of the day for the heavenly host of angels who appeared to the shepherds and praised God:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
-- Luke 4:14 (NASB)
I think what’s important here is not wings but words – Glory to God, indeed!