Years ago, my family and I enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Italy. We spent two weeks crisscrossing the country. At the end of our trip, we did something very special. We visited the house where my father was born in a little town called Ciegli, near Bari.
As I stood before that house, I visualized my father as a child, playing in the street. Then I imagined his mother leaning out one of the windows, calling him for dinner, just as my mother had done for me.
After visiting that house, we went to find the summer home of my father's family. We drove out into the countryside and got lost. After searching for an hour and a half, I was still making many wrong turns down many wrong roads. It was getting late, my family was impatient, and I felt a growing desperation. I didn't know what to do. Then I recalled something I had learned from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I said to my family, "I need a few moments to be quiet while I figure this out."
I stopped the car and worked to relax my mind and my body. I spent two or three minutes getting centered in that place of stillness within, and then I addressed my father with my inner voice.
"Daddy," I said, "please show us the way to the house."
In a second, my inner voice answered, "Go down the road about a half mile. There's a driveway. Turn left." I followed those directions, and there was the house.
For me, those events seemed so simple and natural at the time. But when I thought about them later, I realized that, in that instant, I had experienced the intersection of this earthly experience and a higher realm. It was a supernatural moment for me.
For years, I believed that the voice I heard was my father's. But I have since come to believe that the presence that interceded on our behalf that night was probably a guardian angel. Because, hear me, angels are for real.
Angels are the messengers from this other dimension. Think for a moment about the wonder of the nativity. One day, a young woman named Mary was astounded when an angel appeared and told her she was to bear a child and that child was going to make an enormous difference in the world.
Months later, angels appeared to shepherds in a field. They were scared, and the angel reassured them by saying, "Don't be afraid. I've got good news for you. Not far from here, in the city of David, a savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord."
When Jesus's work was nearly done, he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that the next day would bring an agonizing death on the cross. Jesus felt abandoned by friends--even by His God--and in desperation He cried out, "Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me. Not my will, but let yours be done." Then the Bible tells us: "An angel came from heaven and gave him strength."
At Easter, the two Marys went to the tomb to pray. The Bible says that an angel rolled away the stone. When the women saw that Jesus was not there, the angel told them: "Don't be afraid. He's not here. He is risen." Again an angel came bearing momentous news.
Are angels still around? Are they here with us in this church?
I know they are. Over many decades, countless prayers have been said here and I believe our walls still hold the power and faith contained in all of them. Only last year, two women were sitting in our balcony. One was a church member; the other was here for the very first time. As the visitor was listening to the choir, she thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She looked again, and thought she saw the wings of an angel. She turned away, then turned back again, and the wings were still there. She turned to her friend and said, "Do you see what I see?"
The other woman said, "Yes. I see an angel."
About a dozen years ago, I was about to marry a certain middle-aged couple. Some people said, "Don't do it, Arthur. This marriage is not going to work; it's the wrong thing."
"No, why?" I asked.
"During the entire ceremony, a group of angels was hovering over you and the wedding party."