November 28, 2021 ~ First Sunday of Advent ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Imagine for a moment one of the people you know, who, to the best of your speculation, is least likely to achieve “Angel” status. Go ahead, name someone silently in your mind. Now, hold onto that name.
It was just another day at the temple for Zechariah. It was his priestly turn to make sure everything was done properly and in good order. But the experience turned into something quite different when an angel showed up at the altar! Have you ever had a moment in your life after which you knew nothing would ever be the same? Actually, I think we could all have a moment like that this morning as we consider the person we named silently portraying the angel Gabriel!! For me, the box in which my mind kept a vision of what an angel would be like was blown wide open. So, I am now encountering a whole host (get it?) of new possibilities of what God’s messengers are like! Is it possible that there are Angels among us all of the time, and we just fail to recognize them, and listen to their message?
There is a reason that most angels start their conversations with us by saying, “Do not be afraid.” The angel appearance is the in-breaking of the divine in the midst of our ordinary lives! As will become a common theme in Luke’s gospel, the appearance of an angel in the first chapter signals that this is an extraordinary story of divine events, and yet it is set in the midst of very ordinary people.
The English word “angel” comes from the Latin angelus derived from the Greek translation. The term initially only pointed to a function – that of a messenger. But gradually “angel” came to signify a name for a class of “beings” existing between God and humanity … remember how Psalm 8 states that God has created humans a little lower than the angels? The Old and New Testaments are filled with stories about angels – messengers sent from God – encountering human beings! “Do not be afraid,” they so often say, most likely to frightened and shaky humans.
The angel Gabriel had come to tell Zechariah that indeed, he, and his soon to be growing family, would have integral roles in preparing humanity to receive the long-awaited messiah. The people of Israel had hoped and waited, and waited and hoped for the fulfillment of the prophecy for generations…for centuries. Waiting signifies passivity. HOPE denotes actively engaging in creating an environment hospitable to positive change, rather than living in fear of change. The angel came to deliver a message to Zechariah which was cradled in a calling. The angel was intentionally renewing a HOPE that had all but dwindled, that God would save the people by sending a messiah. And now Zechariah, Elizabeth, and soon-to-be-born John the Baptist were being called to prepare the people for receiving, following, and believing in the coming messiah. Their lives would never be the same again. They had received a life-altering message. Living into this message would inspire more HOPE for all who encountered the fulfillment of a plan of redemption, salvation, and LOVE incarnate.
The culture into which this message was delivered was one of desperation. There was tyrannical rule, oppression, violence, economic disparity, slavery, ethnic cleansing, racial and gender bias, lack of education, and the list could go on. I cannot help but to believe that even in the 21st century, the world still yearns for deliverance, redemption, salvation, and LOVE incarnate that can only come from a messiah. We need to see and hear again the angel’s message from God: “Do not be afraid! Your prayers have been heard! This is what will happen….” I HOPE to recognize those angels among us, delivering a message that may be so much more than I could have ever anticipated, and that continues to call me, and calls us, to claim the power God has given us to make a difference, to help shift circumstances, and not be paralyzed by fear any longer.
Do not be afraid to set out and to fulfill what God is calling you to do and be. Do not be afraid to confront those who would cause harm, those who sow seeds of division within the community, those who perpetuate fear. Do not be afraid to take God’s message out to a world so desperate for a divine source of HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. We live in a time when we are exposed to much information that causes fear and anxiety. “Flying in the face of fear” – to use an angelic metaphor – means putting out information to counteract the pervasive message of fear by spreading the GOOD NEWS message to a growing sphere of influence.
So, the season of Advent into which we step this day, is not an invitation to a long winter’s nap while waiting for a delivery! Rather, this is a season to listen to the angels among us, to overcome our fears, and engage in spreading the message of HOPE in order to help all who receive that message to prepare for the long-desired messiah. There will be times when you will notice “angel tracks” around our church, you may hear the voices (or even choirs) of angels offering God’s messages here, there, or anywhere. And you may even notice that God uses your voice and your actions to calm another’s fears long enough to help that one to receive the good news.
May we encounter many angels…even a Gabriel…as we journey through this Advent season in search of the One who came to save. Amen.