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I want to tell you a story tonight; true stories, an old story, although I doubt you’ve ever heard it before. It’s the story of how we ended up with angels.

The story I’m about to tell you happened in 200 B.C.E., during the dark days when Jerusalem and the Jewish people were being systematically ground out of existence by the Greek successors to Alexander the Great. But it goes back even earlier than that, back to 586 B.C.E when the Babylonian army murdered the Jewish king, leveled the Jewish Temple, destroyed the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem and took the cream of Jewish society into exile in Babylon. Less than 50 years after that, it was the Babylonians themselves who were destroyed by the Persian Empire. Less than 200 years later, the Persians themselves were defeated by Alexander the Great and the Jews, their new Temple and the city of Jerusalem all found themselves under Greek rule. Put simply, from 600 B.C.E. until the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948 — that’s 2000 years! — Jews living in and around Jerusalem were oppressed, stateless and slowly being ground out of existence.
As I said earlier, our story takes place around 200 B.C.E. at a time when the oppression of the Jews by Alexander’s successor empires was particularly vehement. The Jewish people — the ancestors of our Jewish neighbors and our ancestors according to faith — were being systematically eliminated. Their culture was being suppressed and their customs were being eliminated. Their occupiers were making their faith look useless and their God seem powerless. The people and their leaders were at the point of absolute despair. They had been under another nation’s oppressive control for nearly 400 years and there was no earthly evidence that their situation was ever going to change.

It was then that they learned about angels, about what we would call today a ‘parallel universe,’ above and beyond us, where angels and angelic forces, representing each of the world’s nations, engaged in heavenly battle against each other. This was the time when the Book of Daniel, our first reading tonight, was written and “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help”…, doing battle with his angelic forces “with the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” was first introduced.
Try to picture with me what was happening. The occupied, oppressed, ground-down, despairing people of Judah — occupied, oppressed, ground-down and despairing for over 300 years with no end in sight — were given a vision of a parallel universe, where angels contended with each other and where their angel “Michael” and his angelic forces were in fact defeating the patron angel and angelic army of their oppressors: Here on the ground, they were being pulverized, there in that parallel universe above, they, through their surrogate angels, were victorious.

Do you know what happened to the people of Judah as they told and retold and listened to this story?

Their hope returned. Their faith and their courage were restored. In place of despair, they became determined and they began to resist their oppressors; first, in their minds, but ultimately with their hearts and their lives. They regained confidence in their identity as the people God loved and the people God chose. Angels, signs of God’s favor and protection; angels, our surrogates gave these
marginalized people courage, faith and hope. They helped them get through the dreck of each day.

In less than two months, our Jewish neighbors will celebrate the results of that faith, hope and courage renewed when they celebrate that they once threw off their oppressors during the eight days we know as Hanukah.

I don’t know how important angels are to you, but I do know — because I share them with you — that these are despair-filled times; times when we feel oppressed, ground down and filled with despair.

But this is the message of the angels and of Michael and of the one who is, as we will hear next week, “much superior to the angels” named Jesus Christ. Exactly where you feel most oppressed, precisely where you feel most ground down — or ground up — specifically when you are in deepest despair, God is there. Here, right now, as we feel our deepest need, God is present.
That doesn’t mean everything is going to get better. That doesn’t mean our troubles or problems or oppressions are going to go magically or instantly away. All this means is that we can have hope and renewed faith and courage and regain our confidence in our identity as the people God loves and the people God chooses every day even today.

We all know what wonders a hopeful, courageous, confident people can do. Isn’t it time for us to be hopeful, courageous and confident again?