Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2017
Have you ever received a visit from an angel?
Sure you have. Angels are those who bring news that changes your life. Sometimes its tidings of great joy, but other times, it’s not so happy news. Regardless, it’s something that rocks your world, and you know you’ll never be the same.
For example . . .
How did you learn you were pregnant with your first child?
How did you learn about the death of a loved one?
How did you learn about a debilitating accident or terminal disease?
How did you learn about a getting your first job, your acceptance to college?
How did you learn about that boy or girl in your class who liked you?
How did you learn you were moving to a new town, or immigrating to a new country?
How did you learn that your child has a boyfriend or girlfriend, or is getting married?
How did you learn you were going to be a grandparent?
How did you learn . . . ?
Reflecting on these life-changing experiences will reveal to you the angels in your life.
How does Mary react to the angel Gabriel’s visit?
Well, the appearance of Gabriel in the first place, caused her to be afraid. She reacts with fear.
Have you ever been totally startled to see someone you hadn’t expected, and yet there they are right in front of you. And you brain is trying to catch up and put this person in context, and all you can think is “it’s either really good news . . . or really bad news.”
“Don’t be afraid, Mary. For you have found favor with God.”
And with those words, Gabriel drops a life-changing bombshell, “Mary, you’re going to get pregnant and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world!”
Understandably, Mary reacts with confusion, doubt, and questions. “Ummm, just how is this going work?”
When someone hands you a life-changer, whether good or bad, it’s pretty normal to react with confusion, doubt, and a whole bunch of questions.
When I was 15 years old, the angel Wally Goodwin came to me and my parents and said that I could leave my small, boring Wyoming town and go away to attend his very fine college prep boarding school in California, get an outstanding education, and play golf on some of the world’s finest golf courses. What’s not to like? Golf was (is) my passion.
I was so excited I couldn’t think straight, and yet I had a ton of questions. How will this work? Who pays for it? What if I don’t like my roommate? What if I can’t stand the food? What about girls? (It was an all-boys school.) What happens if I get homesick and want to quit? What if I just don’t like it? What if I’m not good enough . . . in the classroom or on the golf course?
The questions played in my head for many months, but I’m so grateful I didn’t let them prevent me from accepting the first great opportunity of my life. And fortunately for me, I’ve had many since then.
Gabriel didn’t exactly answer Mary’s questions. He more or less simply restated what was going to happen. “The power of the Most High will overshadow you, and therefore the child will be born.” I am sure that made Mary feel a whole lot better, right?
But then Gabriel did say something that we’re pretty sure was helpful. “Your relative, Elizabeth, is also pregnant in her old age . . . for nothing is impossible for God.”
Why was that helpful to Mary? Because it gave her something concrete and real to do, something outside of herself that she knows how to do. With haste, she travelled into the hill country to be with Elizabeth and help her through her pregnancy and the birth of John, Jesus’ cousin, who became John the Baptist.
So, in the end, Mary’s response to Gabriel is “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." With surrender, she accepts. Followed by doing something she knows—visiting and helping Elizabeth.
We rejoice in Mary’s YES – that yielded the birth of Jesus. We get to celebrate Christmas every year! The second most important feast of our faith.
But we can also take comfort in the very human way in which Mary reacted to the messenger that changed her life forever:
When an angel visits you, and you know his or her message is going to change your life forever, it’s natural to be afraid. It’s normal to be confused. It’s good to ask questions. And it’s okay to retreat into some activity you know, something outside of yourself. For each of these responses provides a stepping stone toward surrender and YES.
So, here’s your homework. Your last task for Advent—meaning, you should do this in the next 24 hours. Very simply, answer the question that I started with:
Have you ever been visited by angel?
Cook on it, and then take a risk and share that experience with a loved one this Christmas.