An unwelcome, angry-sounding lung infection has lured me into to a forced and undesired few days in bed, with the end result that thoughts have been plenty and turned towards considering the items often associated with our Western celebration of the festival of ‘Christmas’ at this time of year. My Ulster-Scots’ stubbornness prevails over further resting, so here goes….
Christmas….what’s all the fuss? Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.
Might as well embrace it, and choose the ‘add-ons’ desired or the simplicity of simply focusing on its real meaning, eh? Christ the Saviour born into this world, the word became flesh and dwelt among us, as the glorious ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘everlasting Father’ and ‘Prince of Peace’). RIght? Dispute this? We’ll save that one for another day…
So back to here and now.
So many tit-bits to this Christmas m’larky. Which do you prefer? So much glorious food. So many old pop songs revisited. Gifts given. Gifts received. Cards written. Mince pies eaten. Carols sung and turkey roasting. Santa Claus (or Father Christmas should you prefer). Rather than considering merely Santa Claus or the baby Jesus, though, my thoughts have stirred and turned to a few other creatures.
For me, this year, its Rudolph, elves and angels which have captured my attention and let me proceed, (should you kindly indulge me) to explain a little more why, in the end, my conclusion is that angels rule and reign.
Rudolph. A reindeer associate with Santa, right? What’s his origins? Why did he get to be so famous anyway?
Apparently, the infamous Rudolph is the creation of none other than Mr Robert L. May, and actually, did you know that this year, old Rudolph will be 74 years old. That’s right, crafted in 1939 – the year World War II began – Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was born. (Old Rudolph’s not looking too bad for his age, is he? Must be the high vitamin A content of all those carrots…I hear it’s good for sun absorption too).
So how exactly did Rudolph come about? Well, did you know, he was actually apparently birthed, (yes, you’ve guessed it,for economic reasons) by the retailer, “Montgomery Ward – an American retailer which became defunct at the turn of the Millennium. A sad loss I imagine for some. Old Rudolph, however, remains.
The story goes that the retailer had been annually producing a coloring book for Christmas every year, and it was actually in order to save money that Rudolph was created with the intent of Montgomery Ward producing its own book, and thus saving money. Rudolph might well have been named “Rollo” or “Reginald” before Mr May settled on calling his new buck deer creation “Rudolph.” Thankfully his red nose retains less of a stigma these days than it did at the time of his original creation – it was linked to the red noses associated back then with chronic alcoholism and drunkards!
2.5 million copies of the original story were were distributed by the American retailer in its first year of publication. A star was born.
So that’s Rudolph. I have a fresh appreciation and understanding of him this year. I hope you have too.
Then there are the elves. They’ve been around for a while too. A little piece of history if you like. They first appeared as far back as 1850, when a lady named Louisa May Alcott completed, (but never published), a book entitled, “Christmas Elves.” (You may well know her as the author of ‘Little Women’, the famous children’s novel still popular today).
The elves and their image of working in Santa’s workshop, however, made their impact more fully on planet earth a little later in time, thanks to the then influential, “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” which issued an 1873 Christmas Issue depicting Santa surrounded by elves and toys, stating, “Here we have an idea of the preparations that are made to supply the young folks with toys at Christmas time.” (It’s influence as a publication at the time was again demonstrable, for example, in its image of a modern Christmas tree on its 1850 issue, helping to give birth to many of the Christmas traditions we still participate in today).
It took the additional recognition, however, of Christians and their influence on children to cement the elves in Christmas tradition, with the recognition given to them in an 1876 work by Austin Thompson, entitled, “The House of Santa Claus, a Christmas Fairy Show for Sunday Schools.”
So that’s the elves. I appreciate their historical longevity in a fast-paced changing 21st century world. Its good to see they’ve also updated themselves and stayed “culturally relevant” with the embracing of the new technologies open to them, for example, with the creation of this year’s latest mobile phone app, “Elf Finder 2013: Search and Track Hidden Elves.” With such an invention, surely the elves will be around for another century or two longer.
Finally, this brings me to the central figures I have come to believe in the whole wider Christmas festivities. The angels.
“Why the angels?” I hear you ask?
‘Hark the Herald’ and other glorious songs we dutifully term ‘Carols’ and sing quite vigorously and favorably at this time of year, (such as, ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful,’ ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,’ and many many more), proclaim the very essence of the true angels’ purpose and everlasting qualities. They are not merely songs, however, but alongside the true central figure – Jesus – are living beings, who continue to exist in very real ways today.
Angels, you see, are not fictional characters merely created by an author or an artist.
One cannot simply, ‘Google angels,’ and come up with a date for their creation.
Angels have been around since the beginning of time, and are very real creatures, not confined to Christmas or the mere echelons of history or fictional tradition. Unlike the elves, whose master is Santa, or Rudolph whose creator is Robert L. May, angel’s were created by GOD, bow down to God, and shall go remain with God in heaven, where the true and lasting one and only God resides, who was, and who is, and who is to come the Almighty.
Angels are more than merely a tiny figurine we innocently put at the top of our (actually pagan in origin) Christmas trees. Angels are ministering spiritual beings, as real as the air we breathe, created as messengers of God and ready to come and serve his saints when they humbly and simply ask.
Don’t believe me?
All sacred texts mention angels, but for some strange reason, often in the Christian church, angels are not appreciated for what they are. When God spoke to Gideon (see Judges 6 in the ancient text, The Old Testament), it was via the “Angel of the Lord,” and the Psalmist David wrote very intuitively, “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (Psalm 34: 7)
God, of course, sent the angel Gabriel, we are told, to speak to Mary and tell her that she was, “highly favored” and would, “be with child, and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:28-31).
What a day! Humble little Mary, visited by an angelic encounter, and told she was going to be the bearer of God’s Son, by the Archangel Gabriel. Phew. Phenomenal! There are too many more stories in the bible to go on. (but if you’re interested in more detail, read the post-script below)
Today, how many of you can think of an occasion when a disaster seemed imminent and yet was mysteriously averted, perhaps still to your wonder and amazement, yet with no certain explanation of how? Have you ever stopped to consider the very real presence of angels? Especially you Christians out there reading this who might seem to forget or simply be ignorant of the fact angels are very real beings and exist to minister to help God’s people today, every bit as much as they did back in Jesus’ day. It’s time to start seeing them as this.
One particular example in my own life springs to mind. Not very long ago, back in March 2013, when I was certain of a road traffic accident slamming on the brakes in the fast lane of the Motorway (Freeway for you Americans reading this!) down into the city of Belfast, as a large white van in front slammed on its brakes also. I shall never forget it, as the day Pope Francis got elected to the Vatican. Earlier that morning I had been praying and as is often the case, had prayed for protection as I drove the journey to work that day, and somehow, still to my amazement, I ended up stopping just millimeters from the van in front, literally scraping the bumper by a miniscule amount (as if to remind me yes, something still did happen), but completely able to be ignored and avoiding the previously almost inevitable motorway pile up that morning in rush hour traffic. Never in my life have I ever been more aware of angels protecting me and buffering my car. I was grateful to arrive at work alive that day, having pulled up rapidly from 70 Miles per hour in rush-hour traffic in the fast lane!
Perhaps you think I am crazy. Perhaps I am. However, maybe – just maybe, there is something in this. Perhaps we’re not as familiar with the Christmas trimmings and traditions as we once thought we were, and perhaps, just perhaps, Rudolph, elves and angels all deserve a fresh consideration this Christmas.
ps. For those interested in a little more:
According to the Old Testament,
the majority of angels don’t have wings at all. They are one-legged
entities created to perform a private task requested by God. During Shemoneh Esrai known as the silent prayer, Jews put their legs together to resemble angels in hopes of bringing them closer to God.
Three popular types of angels found in the Bible are the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Ophanim; all of which have fierce qualities. The Seraphim,
the highest-ranking angel in the Christian angel hierarchy, is
described in the book of Isaiah as fiery six-winged beings. Seraphim literally means, ‘burning ones’.
Their six wings serve the purpose of hiding their body. One glance at
them would have caused incineration. The imagery of the Seraphim didn’t
suit early painters, and thus subjects with wings became the symbol of
the Seraphim from heaven.
found in the Book of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Kings 1 & 2, Chronicles 1
& 2 and Hebrews, hold four faces; one of a lion, a man, an eagle,
and an ox. It’s body and hands are that of a man’s with feet of a calf
and four wings covered in eyes. Being the ghastly creature it is,
renaissance art took liberal creativity. An interesting point to note is that, Renaissance painters – so as not to confuse the Cherubim
with the Seraphim in religious paintings – represented them as baby angels.
No angel in heaven tops the uniqueness chart like that of the Ophanim. Bizarrely described as wheels within wheels, with hundreds of eyes
covering the rims on every side, these tremendously powerful beings
supervise the flow of energy throughout the realms of the universe and
carry out the divine justice of the Lord. Unable to symbolically
represent these creatures, religious painters often simply painted the angel,
which closely resembles a flying saucer.