Better Than Angels!
Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; The Magnificat; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
There are many signs around that Christmas is coming. People shopping, strings of lights, trees carefully decorated, the aroma of baking fills our houses. Yet Christmas is about more than turkey and Santa Claus and presents under the tree. As Christians we know that, however, the story is so familiar to us that we forget how momentous an occasion it is. That is why Advent is an important season of the Church year. It helps to prepare us spiritually by reminding us to look for the signs that God is present with us, that God has visited us in a special way. Signs that God will come again!
So why is it that signs of God coming again fill us with fear and apprehension? This past week the Mayan Calendar came to an end. Of course, there was great speculation all over the globe about the imminence of an apocalyptic end to the world. There were rumours about floods and collisions with planets. And let’s be honest! For just a moment we may have wondered whether the predictions were true. There are signs all around us that things are going wrong on our planet. We cannot ignore global warming. We cannot help but notice that this has been a year of storms of epic proportion. And no matter how much we would wish otherwise, an event like the Newtown tragedy affects us all and gives rise to an uneasy sense that perhaps these are not the best of times after all.
Signs of tragedy are all around us, but so too are signs that God is with us in the midst of it all. Those are signs that, even when we recognize them, we easily dismiss as irrelevant. We become preoccupied; there is the busyness the season, activities, family, the cares of life, all can distract us from seeing how God is at work in our lives
Angels are one of the signs of the season. Or at least they are a part of the folklore of Christmas. They adorn our Christmas trees. We see them on cards and wrapping paper. They are an important part of every Christmas pageant. They are part and parcel of the Christmas story.
There are many references to angels in Scripture. The Old Testament belief about angels was that they were messengers sent from God to speak or do wonders in God's name. Angels were usually seen as intermediaries who preserved God from too intimate a contact with earthly creatures. In the New Testament they continued to communicate with humankind, bringing messages of comfort and hope from God. They were part of the heavenly retinue, as we see in the nativity story as the angel hosts appear to the shepherds.
In our modern world angels are part of the phenomenon of the unexpected and unexplained. They are viewed as miracle workers, magical in their powers, helping to unleash our creativity. There is a worldview amongst many that our destiny is to become angels. How many times was that echoed this past week as people spoke about the children who died at Sandy Hook School now being angels in their lives?
In Christian circles, they are still seen as messengers. In an anecdote in Chicken Soup for the Soul it says, “Angels never say “Hello!” They come knocking at the door of our hearts, trying to deliver a message to us.” That is certainly the sense that I have of angels. Most of the decorations on my Christmas tree are angels. I find it to be a comforting symbol of how God communicates to us. Even though I have no physical proof of angelic beings, I have certainly been aware on more than one occasion of an aura of holiness that comforted me in a way that I have put down to angelic.
Today’s Gospel tells of how God sends an angel to speak to a young peasant woman named Mary. God chooses her to become the 'God Bearer'. The angel delivers the message to Mary that she has been chosen. She willingly accepts the unexpected demand of God, but her encounter with the angel leaves her confused. She knows what lies ahead for her in the community. No angelic message can help her deal with her confusion or fear. She turns to her cousin, Elizabeth. She needs to share not only her fears and struggles, but also her joy, her good news. She knows that her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, will understand.
Elizabeth 'consecrated to God'! That is the meaning of her name. However, Elizabeth 'the cursed one' is how she is no doubt known in the village in which she lives. Women who could not have children are scorned. They are considered cursed by God. For years she has been pleading with God asking what she has done to deserve God's wrath. God hears her plea. And now, the aged one, the one all the women in the village felt sorry for, is going to have a baby. She can hardly believe it. She had given up all hope of ever becoming a mother.
Elizabeth was in her sixth month when Mary arrived from Nazareth. She had not been expecting the visit because it was about four days journey from Nazareth where Mary lived to Elizabeth's home in Hebron. So she knew instinctively before Mary had a chance to say anything that something even more wonderful than her miracle had happened in Mary’s life. Her response to Mary was better than any angelic message could possibly have been. It was instinctive. It came from the heart. God has blessed her; because of her yearning she understands Mary's situation.
In her joy she says, “And why has this happened to me?” If you think about it, such words are usually spoken out of the tragedies of our lives, yet here Elizabeth is responding from a real sense of joy and love. She understands that Mary is truly blessed to be the God Bearer. She also understands that Mary is blessed to have listened to the voice of the angel and responded to God's amazing call. She affirms Mary's call to be the God bearer.
The Elizabeth's of our lives are real blessings, signs of God’s presence. They are quiet people who often remain unnoticed. Yet when God wants them to do something important they do not hesitate. They understand how God is breaking through into their lives. They humbly trust God who is able to take our barrenness and turn it into a wonderful gift, a real blessing. They trust that God's word will be fulfilled. They know themselves well enough; they are secure enough in themselves, to enable others to share their own gifts and talents. They don't have to be in the limelight.
The Elizabeth's of our world give wholehearted encouragement to bring about God's purposes. They prepare the way for the Saviour to be born in us. They are models of good ministry. You see, ministry is not about something that you have hired a priest to do on your behalf. It is something to which each of us is called in our own way. The best ministry is done by people like Elizabeth, who open up their hearts to those in need. They are the listening ears of the church who always know who is hurting. They are the wounded healers of the community who reach out to the abused, to the neglected, to the needy. They bring healing wherever they go. They know that God can take our barrenness and turn it into a wonderful gift.
This is a season to heed the signs of God’s presence. It is a time to be prepared for whatever miraculous way God’s message comes to us. What are the signs of incarnation that God is offering to us today? How will we bear those signs in the world? Will we try to ignore them, or will we be active participants in the event? The Spirit of God continues to birth human life. For God is with us, Emmanuel. May Christ be born in us today and always. Amen
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