Saturday, December 14, 2013

Angels Are Not Cute and Fluffy



I was in sixth grade, and it was one of those banner years where our children’s choir got to take up the whole Sunday service with a musical that we started practicing in September.

And after tryouts, I was not happy with the role I got, even though it was one of the leads. “I didn’t want to be the angel,” I remember muttering in the car after we got our parts handed out.

"I am super cute, and I know it." (I 100% did not look like this.)

In this particular production, the angel’s name was Chrissy, and she was a sighing, ditzy girl who giggled a lot and did absolutely nothing to contribute to solving the mystery of the play except make obvious statements and sing a solo of “What Child Is This?”

Part of my dislike of my part was the aforementioned lack of depth in the character. Part of it was because, growing rapidly toward a gawky twelve, I was becoming aware that girls with huge glasses and bowl cuts weren’t supposed to get the part of the pretty, popular angel. I was told I might even—gasp!—have to paint my nails for the performance.

“Angels weren’t girls, anyway,” I continued. “I would be the sissiest angel ever.”

"Hey, if you wanted to, you could maybe look over there at the star. Please."

By the time I got to high school, my glasses were gone, my hair longer, and my sense of exegetical certainty even more firmly ingrained. I was writing the dramas for our youth group and hadn’t lost that angels-aren’t-sissy chip on my shoulder. I insisted on making all angels in my Christmas skits male. Because they basically all were in the Bible. (The guys in the youth group didn’t all appreciate this, since angel costumes are not usually designed with males in mind.)

I’ve since realized that this was a bit of a false standard, since angels don’t have a gender and probably only appeared as men because they gave messages in a male-dominated society. Still, there was something fun in inverting the stereotype that the angel should be the prettiest blonde girl in the youth group, with a tinsel halo and a soprano voice.

"If someone cuts this rope, I am falling on my face." (And when did holly start growing in the Middle East?)

I was stubbornly dedicated to the protest voiced by a character in one of my dramas: “And this angel is always a woman with long, curly hair, flowing robes, and a delicate smile. She holds a harp or a banner that says, ‘Peace on Earth.’ Doesn’t anyone see anything WRONG with this? I mean, send that kind of angel as part of the choir to the shepherds. Fine. I’m sorry, but if God became a baby, I would assign my toughest-looking archangel to the nativity and post him right beside that manger. With an enormous sword. He could hold a banner saying, ‘Merry Christmas. Touch the baby and die.’”

In a way, I was right. The typical gentle treetop angel with flowing hair and robe, stroking a harp so lightly that you doubt she’s making any music at all is pretty inaccurate Biblically. Here are a sampling of verses about angels, just to give you the picture a little.

Isaiah 6:2, “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” (I’m totally making my own line of nativity scenes with an accurate angel just like this. Also, baby Jesus won’t look like he’s already six months old and Mary will be exhausted and sweaty from labor.)

Revelation 19:10, “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’” (When I see most pictures of angels, my first thought isn’t, Wow, I want to bow down to this thing, but Aw, isn’t she cute? Apparently this isn’t the typical reception to angels.)

2 Samuel 24:16-17, “And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, ‘It is enough; now stay your hand.’ And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly.’” (So, one angel—that David could actually see—was about to destroy an entire city. I doubt he was looking up at a fluffy-winged Precious Moments figure.)

"I'm going to ballroom dance lessons after this."

Add to this the fact that, as my friend pointed out in a recent Christmas card, angels always had to proclaim “Fear not!” as a disclaimer the second they appeared to someone, and you get a very different image of angels than the ones we usually see.

I typed in “nativity angel with sword” into Google images, just for fun. 


Only three of these guys are wielding weapons. We also have kid with harp, Ghost of Christmas past angel, angel in a boat with baby Jesus, and a random guy with a fez and a spear.

What can be done about this, you ask? Well, here are five tips for making angels more realistic.

  1. Attach extra pairs of wings and eyes. Read accounts in Daniel and Revelation of heavenly beings, and you’ll know that they don’t exactly look like meek little maidens (or butt-naked babies, another clichĂ© that totally baffles me).
  2. Give them a weapon. Someone’s gotta protect the kid from demons, right?
  3. Make them intensely intimidating. However that works for you. Stern expression, maybe. Scribble on a few tattoos. Something that conveys, “Don’t mess with me. Or with God.”
  4. Maybe they can still sing “What Child Is This?” Maybe. Although they were probably the only ones who actually knew what child was that. But if they sing that song, they should follow it up with a nice production of something a little more awe-inspiring, belting out a showstopper that will make the shepherds fall flat on their face. And there should be lots of them. (I mean, it was a big moment. I doubt God left the announcement to one bowl-cut angel with a quavering alto, blinded and alone in the spotlight.) 
  5.  Replace “Peace on Earth” or "Gloria" on any angel banner with “Fear Not” just to see what people will say. Or if they even notice. It could be a fun conversation-starter. 

I actually really like this picture. Because everyone is thinking, "Hey, get outta the way! I want to see!" Also, Joseph looks seriously stressed out, and I love that.


Why is this a big deal, you might also ask? (Convenient how all your questions fit into what I want to say.) It’s actually not a big deal at all. This was really just for fun. If you change all my dramas to have female angels, it’s not a big deal. I haven’t (yet) gone around with google eyes, feathers, and tacky glue to embellish the angel decorations I see around.

And yet, this is also a public service announcement that hey, these things are real. Angels are not like Santa’s elves, inventions of our Western culture because they’re cute. Angels have a purpose, and they entered a specific culture at a specific place in time. The nativity story is not a fairy tale and Gabriel is not Tinkerbell wearing white.

We can fix this, guys. We can go forth and make angels tough and intimidating again. One blushing cherub and wimpy treetopper at a time.

(Also, enjoy this collection of awful nativity scenes. I winced and laughed throughout.)

3 comments:

  1. I THINK, but am not positive the "butt-naked babies" were inspired by mythology, Aphrodite's son, Cupid, I believe. My personal rant is the portrayal of Mary in the nativity pictures. She had just had a long journey, probably on foot, while being 9 months pregnant. She had just gone through childbirth for the first time and in a barn. I bet she was dusty, sweaty, and smelled bad.

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  2. I know! It just frustrates me when people turn things that should be awe-inspiring, even terrifying, into cutesy little tots!!! Grrr! I HATE elves that are less than 5'9", and can't be frightening to save their lives! LEGOLAS, GLORFINDEL, ELROND, AND CELEBORN WILL KICK THEIR SORRY BEHINDS AND GALADRIEL WILL TURN THEM INTO TOADS, THEN SELEBRIAR DARKLEAF WILL COME AND BIND THEM INTO THE GROUND FOR SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS!!!
    Okay, now I feel vindicated. :-P

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  3. As an author(not published, still writing) I write about a guardian Angel, and I make him kind of adorable on Earth, but he's actually pretty tough, so I'm totally with you on the "Let's make angels to what they're supposed be," tough and awesome!

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