In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.’
(Luke 1. 26 – 31)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1. 18 – 20)
When it comes to nativity plays, I was always an angel, never Mary. ‘Ahhhh’, do I hear you say? I was always an angel because I could sing, and obviously angels do lots of singing!
We know lots about angels from hundreds of nativities at school, at church, or in illustrated children’s books. Angels are everywhere in the nativity stories, dressed in long white robes, detachable wings and tinsel halos. In our imagination, they become awesome, majestic creatures of human appearance with impressive wings and a Readybrek glow.
In all honesty, we know nothing about angels. Have you ever seen one? To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen an angel, and over the years I have only met one or two people who claim they have. Perhaps, that is the point. These amazing beings are not ordinary or everyday.
In the Bible, angels are God’s messengers, his announcers. Heaven’s heralds occasionally come to earth to announce significant information to special people. In these readings, the angel Gabriel and his unnamed companion are preparing for a very special birth. They must be pretty impressive, unusual creatures, because their opening line is nearly always: ‘Do not be afraid’. However, Mary seems to be more perplexed and thoughtful than frightened. We get the impression that Joseph too was mulling over what to do, trying to work out a kind and caring way out of an embarrassing and distressing situation. After the angel’s visits, Mary and Joseph are both somehow reassured and strengthened to accept their calling to become the earthly parents of the God-man, Jesus.
A certain amount of mystery continues to surround the angels, but somehow we like them. What do you think?
A Prayer Heavenly Father,
this Advent, help us to approach your Word with an open mind ready to learn new truths.
The angel Gabriel from heaven came, a Basque Carol sung by ‘Libera’