Monday, December 05, 2005

Gabriel: The Advent Question

Do angels ever get nervous? Sure. And I should know.

Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Gabriel. That's right. The One from the Gospels. The one who was blessed to bring the world the Good News that a Savior was to be born. I remember it like it was yesterday. Let me share the story with you. I was standing in the throneroom of God. That's what my name means by the way - The One who Stands in the Presence of God's Glory. So there I was with my fellow angels: Raphael, Michael, Saraguel, Uriel and Remiel - when the Lord spoke my name. Regardless of how many times I have heard it - there is something about having your name called by the voice that sounds like the roaring of mighty waters. "Gabriel! Approach my throne!" Shielding my eyes with my wings I approached God's golden throne. Kneeling reverently before him I answered: "Yes Lord?"

"Gabriel. It is time." I didn't need to ask what time because all of us angels knew that that time was the time that all heaven and earth had been waiting for. It was time to fulfill all the words God had spoken by his prophets so many years before. It was time for Jesus to enter human history. It was time for God's great salvation to be revealed. And I was to be the chosen messenger.

Quite the responsibility. I had had a trial run with old Zechariah the priest. I had been sent to tell him that soon his wife Elizabeth was to have a child. A special son who would prepare the way for the Messiah. But now it was time for the most important message an angel had ever been asked to carry. "Go," He said, "to Nazareth and bring the message I will give you to a young girl named Mary." "Yes, Lord," I said flush with excitement, "Right away!" And just as I was turning to leave God spoke again: "One more thing Gabriel - wait until you receive an answer." "Of course, my Lord," I said and was on my way.

Faster than human thought I winged my way to the small nation of Israel. Ah, Israel. God's chosen people. So blessed; yet so foolish at times. Time and again they tested the Lord and time and again He forgave them. Now after hundreds of years of oppression and pain they were to be the recipients of God's greatest gift. A gift not only for them, but for the whole world. The gift of a Savior. Skimming over Jerusalem, I looked at Herod's temple and his richly ornate palace. Little did these people know what the real trappings of royalty were. No, I thought, the King of Kings would find a much meaner bed than the soft cushions of Herod the so-called Great.

Intent to be about my mission, I turned to the north, to Nazareth. Not much of a town, really. A rough and tumble village, with hilly streets and sidewalks littered with garbage. Host to the rough worldly caravan merchants who travelled the great road of commerce between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, it was looked down upon by many in Israel. Indeed it was the source of much ridicule. The people were quick to say: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Indeed it was a rather ordinary place. But by now I had learned that this is how God always likes to work. Shunning what the world deems important, He delights in using the foolish things of this world for his displays of grace and glory.

It was late in the afternoon, as I approached the tiny cottage where Mary and her parents lived. Her father was still at work and her mother was down in the marketplace buying dinner, so Mary was left all alone. I paused and peered in a small window. The first thought that came to my mind was how young she looked. She must have been only about 15 years old. The flush of childhood was still evident in her rosy cheeks. She seemed to me hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. I was struck once again by the fact that my God indeed moves in mysterious ways. Mary was shelling peas and singing to herself. The song she sang was a familiar wedding song. For she was engaged to the local carpenter Joseph. A good and righteous man. I would later have a chance to talk to him as well. She seemed so content, sitting there shelling and singing. Little did she know that the message I was about to bring would put her dreams of happiness in jeopardy.

It was time. With my carefully rehearsed greeting in mind, I appeared - as only an angel can in the middle of the room. "Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you!" To her credit, Mary didn't scream. She did, however, drop the basket of peas on the floor and sit back with this rather dumbfounded look on her face. But who could blame her? It isn't everyday an angel interrupts you shelling peas. Indeed how would any of you act if I or one of my fellow angels were to appear in our full glory in the midst of your daily life? It is a good thing that we usually come in more simple garb. Unaware, I think the writer of Hebrews calls it. Anyway, I could see that Mary was greatly troubled by my words, so I tried to reassure her. "Don't be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." That seemed to calm her down a bit. Then it was time to drop the proverbial bombshell.

"Mary, God has a favor to ask of you." I cleared my throat and began to recite the words God himself had given me: "You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end." I finished and looked into those wide eyes and asked: "Will you do God this favor?" Mary looked at me and then softly whispered: "Does He have to ask?" And I smiled at her and replied, "God always asks."

She thought a bit and then asked: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" God had prepared me with an answer to that one as well. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...Nothing is impossible with God."

Then I asked the Advent question again: "Mary will allow God to use you for this purpose? Will you be the mother of God's Son?" This was it the moment of Truth. I saw in my mind's eye all of heaven bending down and looking in on this young girl in this little cottage in this obscure village. I held my breath as did all the angels and saints above. All eternity came down to this one moment. All of the promises that the prophets had made rested upon the answer of this young girl. My wings tightened in anticipation. My palms began to sweat. The silence was almost deafening. Time seemed to stand still. What will she say? I thought. What if she says no? What if she is not willing to risk her marriage to Joseph? What if she is not willing to endure the stares and the whispers. What if she is not willing to let her life be forever changed? Who of us could blame her if she said no?

Then, and if I live forever and I will, I will never forget that moment. She looked at me with eyes so full of love and innocence and said: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." Mary didn't hear it, but I did. Suddenly all heaven broke loose in the sounds of celebration not heard since the creation. The angels started singing the Hallelujah Chorus. God the Father turned to God the Son and smiled. The Holy Spirit hovered above the whole scene filling heaven with His joy. Back in Nazareth, holding back my tears of joy, I looked one last time at this young girl and smiled. She smiled back and bowed her head in prayer. Taking my cue, I left as suddenly as I had came. With my heart bursting with excitement I winged my way back to the throneroom of God.

Yet I remember thinking as I went that Mary was just the first in a long line of people who would be asked to answer that Advent question. A Christian theologian of another day, Meister Eckhart, once wrote these words: "What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago, and I do not give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture."

And that is why I am here today. To once again ask the Advent question of each of you this day. Advent, you see, is a time to prepare for the miraculous birth of Jesus into your world - but year to year you can never really predict just when that event will occur in your own life.

Jesus does not enter the world on the stroke of midnight on December 25. Jesus can and will enter your life whenever you allow him to. Just like Mary did. So this Advent I ask each of you again: "Will you let God work through your life this Advent? Are you willing to let his Son be born anew in your life; in your time; in your world?"

Do angels get nervous? You bet. Every time this question is asked of one of you.

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