Christmas Eve- December 24, 2022
THE BIRTH OF JESUS FROM THE VIEWPOINT
OF THE ANGEL GABRIEL
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
For those of you who may be visiting tonight, I am a biblical storyteller. I often tell the gospel by heart in our services but occasionally I write a story. Last summer while on my retreat at the Jesuit Center in Louisiana my spiritual director gave me the annunciation to meditate on for the afternoon. I had been thinking about an original story based on this and I would like to tell you the story I wrote that afternoon. It is the story of the birth of John and Jesus from the view of the Angel Gabriel.
God summons the Angel Gabriel. God says to Gabriel, “I have an assignment for you. The time has come for me to reveal the great truth about me to the world. People seem to think that following the law is all important and what counts. They’re missing the point. The point is that love is what my kingdom is about. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time and now is the time.
I’m sending you to the temple in Jerusalem. There you will find a good and faithful if somewhat aged priest named Zachariah. He’s from a good priestly order and his wife Elizabeth is of the house of Aaron. They are up in years and have no children, but I’m going to change that. Elizabeth will conceive and bear a son named John, make sure you specify that with Zachariah along with some other details. John is the one who will come to announce that my son will be born and will be the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for. You will find him in the temple next week since it is his time to serve. Appear to him by the altar when he comes in to offer incense.”
Gabriel, “Yes it will be as you say. I’ll leave immediately.”
The following week Gabriel reports back. Gabriel: “Well I have spoken to Zechariah and everything is all set. Although he presented more of a challenge than I expected.”
God: “Well most people don’t know what to do when an angel, especially an archangel shows up to give them a message that seems to be out of line with what they believe. After all Elizabeth is well past childbearing years. What did you expect? By the way did you really have to render him mute until John is born. That seems a little excessive”
Gabriel: “Well I did get pretty upset, I mean I am the Angel Gabriel and I came directly from you so I expected to be believed. But I suppose I did get a little heavy handed with the angel card.”
God: That’s water under the bridge and when he is able to speak I’m sure he will make quite an impression so it may be for the best. Now for the more challenging part of the assignment, who is going to be the mother?”
Gabriel: “Oh I’ve got several good possibilities shall I go and speak with them?”
God: “Oh really you have some candidates do you? Well you can try but the clock is running. I’ll give you a month and then report back to me.”
So Gabriel heads back to earth and asks several people he has in mind, but nobody was interested. Let’s listen to his report
Gabriel; “Well boss, I’m frustrated and surprised. I couldn’t find anyone who would take on this task. I went to several important families. A couple of the women just ran away like I was a ghost. But most of them said that they couldn’t do this or that they were too important or they liked their life the way it was thank you very much and were not interested. I’m out of candidates. I don’t understand it!”
God: “Of course you are somewhat baffled, but I’m not at all surprised. However I thought I’d let you try anyway. This is a risky and challenging task. The rich and powerful have too much to risk and that’s part of the problem. They are all wrapped up in the Temple system and political power that they have developed. That’s part of what must change. They no longer really know me as I am. I knew this but even you a great archangel needed to learn this for yourself.
Now that you are ready to listen, I’ve had my eye on someone for quite a few years. A young girl, barely a woman from Nazareth. Her name is Mary. I think she’ll be perfect. She is faithful, caring, not yet married. She is also a relative of Elizabeth so they can support each other through the coming months. It’s all part of my plan. She is engaged to a wonderful man Joseph. He’s a carpenter and from Bethlehem which means he is of the family and line of David. That is important for the prophets have said that the Messiah will be from the line of David. I think they are just the perfect two people. Let’s see Elizabeth is coming up on 6months so now is the time. Go and speak with Mary. And tame down the glory and angel stuff a bit. She’s young and I want her to accept willingly not because you scared the daylights out of her.”
Gabriel: “Yes I get the message, no blazing lights or signs in the heavens. Just a calm personal visit.”
Gabriel leaves heaven and arrives outside the small house where Mary is living. It is a wonderfully clear morning with a light breeze, before the heat of the day has set in. He looks over the wall and sees that she’s out front on a bench repairing one of the few dresses that she has. Gabriel thinks wow, she is young but there is something special. God certainly knows what God is doing. Gabriel is a little nervous knowing everything hangs on the next few minutes
Gabriel approaches and says, “Greetings favored one the Lord is with you!”
Mary looks startled, puts down her sewing and Gabriel thinks, Oh no I’ve scared her. I hate when that happens, everyone is always scared when one of us appears. She knows I’m an angel the sensitive ones, the faithful ones, always seem to know no matter how we appear but we always make them nervous.
Remembering his instructions from God he gently sits down on the bench next to her, puts his hand on her shoulder and says in a calming voice, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Looking stunned and still somewhat bewildered Mary says,” How can this be since I am still a virgin?”
Gabriel smiles gently at her knowing that this is the crucial moment and says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Now everything hangs on Mary’s answer. She looks down at the simple dress that she was repairing when Gabriel appeared and wonders how all this will work. She looks up and sees the anxious look on Gabriel’s face and smiles. Gabriel knows her answer before she speaks. Taking Gabriel’s hands in hers she says excitedly, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Gabriel beaming the greatest smile he had every smiled then departs and returns to heaven.
As he arrives in God’s presence God says, “Well done Gabriel that was absolutely perfect. She made her choice to take her place in the great plan. The plan to show the world that I am not a God of law, but a God of love. You see Gabriel that is why it had to be someone like Mary. The rich and powerful think they have much to lose and nothing to gain. They think they have it all figured out. That’s totally wrong, but when Jesus is among them, he will teach them that. Whether they listen or not, well that is up to them not me. I can only offer them the kingdom.”
“Now I do have a couple other assignment for you over the next 9 months. First you are going to need to make a trip back to earth to talk with Joseph. She will tell him what has happened but I know him and he will have his doubts. We owe him a personal explanation. This is a lot to ask of a man about to marry a pregnant woman. I’m sure tongues will wag. I know him, he will not want to put her aside or punish her. He loves her too much. You don’t need to go to him in person though. A visit in a dream should be sufficient. And after Jesus is born you will have some work to do to keep Jesus safe from Herod who will try to kill him, of that I am sure. He will be seen as a threat to all those in power from the very start.
Now when Jesus is born that’s where you can really pull out all the stops to announce his birth, but and I hope you’re starting to understand, you will announce his birth to shepherds. Yes I know they are lower than low, but that’s the point. This is a change that starts from the bottom up. So yes put on all your glory take some of the heavenly host with you for the announcement and don’t forget the star that needs to stop over Bethlehem where he will be born that is critical for some other characters in this story. That’s your department as well. You have great deal of work to do before Jesus arrives so get busy!.”
Gabriel departs filled with joy at the part he is playing in the great story that will bring the love of God into the world in a way that has never happened before. The incarnation will change the world forever.