ANGELS – Week 4

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God…”
“How can this be?
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you…”
“May it be done to me according to your word.
Luke 1:30, 34, 35, 38

My Dear Friends in Christ,

It is perhaps one of the most momentous dialogues in human history. The angel Gabriel appears and brings the news of God’s plan for salvation. A plan so radical it will involve God becoming human, God putting aside all divinity to take on our humanity. And even more radical for Mary, she will be involved. Then, Mary, frightened by the angel, but still so sure in her faith, that is bold enough to ask a question. The Angel’s answer is basically God will take care of it and so Mary responds “Yes. I will allow God to work in and through me, even though I don’t have all of the details. Yes, I will help God come into the world. Yes, I will start right now by going and visiting my cousin Elizabeth, who is old and now pregnant.” “May it be done to me according to your word.”

It is a major role played by an angel in one of the most important events in history. This event is the precursor for Christmas and Easter, in fact, the precursor for Christ Himself. The Event is called the Annunciation, and we read about it in Luke’s Gospel. Luke begins by establishing the characters and setting the stage. Luke was a physician, a scientist, and wrote perhaps the most “precise Gospel. It’s important because Luke investigates what he writes to make sure it was accurate to create as he says expressly, “an orderly account.”

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Luke introduces us to the angel Gabriel. Gabriel means “God is my strength.” Gabriel describes himself I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you good news. Gabriel brings good news. To Mary an otherwise unknown woman living in the town of Nazareth  in the Galilee region, s mall dumpy town in back-water area in a minor nation at the edge of the Roman empire. Later one of Jesus’ own disciples would say, Nazareth? What good could come from Nazareth? (Jn 1.46) Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but they did not live together.

So Gabriel appears to Mary and says, Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. The word “Hail” is a joyful greeting, and notice that Gabriel does not call Mary by name. He describes her “full of grace” and goes on to describe her as one walking with the Lord. The Lord is with you. From the beginning we encounter Mary as one close to God. The angel probably encounters her in prayer, spending time with God, open to receiving, vulnerable to God’s call. And that description gives us insight into the Feast we just celebrated, the Immaculate Conception, when we celebrate that Mary was conceived without sin.

But even in her holiness and her humility, Mary was not ready for the visit of an angel. She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Sometimes we struggle with these miraculous accounts and hesitate to believe
what actually happened or what the experience felt like. Mary was greatly troubled. We’ve talked about the fear angels often inspire, the reality how far we are, even when we are as holy as Mary was, how far we are from God. And that leaves aside what was coming next and the message Gabriel had come to share.

Gabriel tells Mary: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. You will bear a son… and call him Jesus. Jesus is taken from the Hebrew name Yes-u-a also rendered Joshua which means “God is our salvation.” There was another Joshua, the assistant and successor of Moses, chosen by God to lead Israel out of bondage and into the Promised Land. The angel explains that Mary’s child will be called by the same name because he will serve a similar role, with an important difference: The first Joshua led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt; the new Joshua will lead all people out of the slavery of sin and death. Besides the name Jesus, he will be called: Son of the most high. “Most high” is a title reserved for God in the Israelite tradition, so Mary’s Son  will be the divine Son of God. And as, God’s Son, Mary’s baby will receive: the throne of David his father and reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. In other words Jesus is going to be king of everything, forever, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Gabriel has laid out God’s plan for salvation, the plan they had been hoping and praying for, the plan they were eager to receive and share, the plan that would banish the Roman oppressors, end poverty, cure sickness and stop evil. The angel announces the Messiah is coming. The biggest announcement of all, the biggest announcement ever, moving forward the plan, the only plan and the whole plan. And Mary pauses. This announcement is not a done deal. It is only a proposal until Mary accepts it. Mary has to agree, God will not force her, she remains free to choose. God’s will cannot be a done deal for her until she says “yes.”

You can almost see all of heaven pausing and listening for her response. Imagine a scene crafted by Cecil B DeMille. Cecil DeMille, the most commercially successful producer-director in history was an American film director and producer. Acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema he was known for huge epic productions. Closer to home for me, his name was invoked by my mother whenever my father was trying to stage the perfect photograph or home movie. My father was a perfectionist. We used to search for hours for a Christmas tree. Then when we got it home, My dad would take it to the garage where he would rebuild the tree by cutting off God’s misplaced branches and then drilling hole into the trunk to place them where God should have placed them. (So don’t ever wonder where I get it from! It comes naturally)
Well, my father was the same even in lining up casual pictures, moving people around, adding and subtracting props, changing light. And he would keep doing this until my mother had had enough. “Of for God’s sake, Joe. Stop being Cecil B. DeMille and take the damn picture!”

All of heaven was pausing; everything and everyone listening, waiting for Mary’s response, listening with ears better trained than those who listened for what E. F. Hutton said. And, with salvation hanging on the line, with the fierce and formidable angel of God still right there before her, with all of heaven waiting for her response…

Mary pauses. Mary pauses. Mary pauses. And then rather than saying “YES” right away, Mary is so bold as to ask a question: “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” Mary is not rejecting God’s plan. She has discerned that God is asking something of her but she’s not sure what. She probably thinks that perhaps she hasn’t understood clearly.  Unlike us, Mary did not expect God to become human.  She would never have imagined, let alone expected God to become human. God was so wholly other, that good Jews would even speak God’s name. So she asks a question: HOW?! It’s not like the angel came down and offered the game plan, time table, and exact locations along with detailed SWOT analyses and future projections.

Like a good disciple, Mary listens for God’s will and is inclined to do what God asks but seeks to clarify, to move in the right direction, to move forward as God asks and so she seeks information. Because the results of misunderstanding would have been severe. To be found with someone else’s child would have been a humiliation to her fiancé and family and could have easily led to a life of punishment and poverty as well as social isolation. And Nazareth was a small town, there was no place to hide.

Now, the answer that the angel gives her would not be satisfactory for me: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. In other words, God will take care of it.  You do your part and allow God to work. This is not mansplaining or God patting the good little girl on her head, telling her not to worry. No, God is telling her, that He will accompany her, that he will be with her and open the way for her. Perhaps to add some credibility or to demonstrate God’s power to open the way, the angel continues: And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who is called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.

The news and this addition is still completely unbelievable, still incredible but, reminded of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm, Mary says Yes. Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Mary’s answer when it comes is simple. The angel simply brings her God’s word, and Mary simply accepts it.

We’re not angels, but we can act like them. We can do things angels do. Not everything to be sure, but some things. One thing especially we can do is bring God’s word to others. We can bring God’s word to others, to the people around us, the people we encounter this Christmas, wherever we go and whatever we do. Ultimately, it’s up to them if they want to receive it or not, just like Mary with Gabriel, but we can bring it to them nonetheless. People need to hear God’s word of comfort and joy. People need to hear God’s word of “fear not.” People need to hear God’s word of hope and help. People need to hear that God has sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save it, to save us from hurts and hang-ups, worry and doubt, stress and tension, sadness and sorrow, from our bad choices and their consequences.

God sent the angel Gabriel to bring God’s word to Mary. This Christmas he sends you and I to do the same. In the next few days, who is it in your life who needs to hear a word of hope or help: Perhaps it is an invitation to believe God has a plan for all of human history and for each one of us, not to overwhelm or overlook us, but one that involves us and strengthens us for a significant role. Or… maybe it’s as simple as an invitation to join us online for Christmas Eve Mass. More than any other night of the year, people approach Christmas Eve looking for… well, they may know not what. Ultimately, though, they’re looking for God, for the comfort and hope that God can give, the way forward God can provide, the light God seeks to bring into our world. And, like John the Baptist, you can help point out that light and testify to that light. We may not be able to be together, but we can reach out to others and invite them to watch and to celebrate on-line with us and with you. Gather your household and watch together as a family. At the same time you can Zoom with someone who may be alone. Or call them and share God’s comfort, help them to grow closer to God and know how close God seeks to be to them; reveal God’s glory by thinking of them and sharing with them. Maybe you think of someone NOW. Begin NOW to share the light of Christ so it can shine brighter on Christmas Eve. We may not be able to do it in person, but we can still serve others.

Angels by their help and their example are reminders for us to bring God’s message of hope to others. Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.

 

Peace,

 

 

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