Skip to comments.Angels of Advent: Announcing the Forerunner
Posted on 12/03/2015 4:01:51 PM PST by NYer
Zechariah was a priest doing his duty, making the incense sacrifice in the temple, when an angel appeared to him. The story is told in the first chapter of Lukeâs gospel. The angel told Zechariah that, despite he and his wife, Elizabeth, being too old to have children, she would have a son.
The language and imagery in the story is evocative of the Old Testament. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless when three angels appeared to announce the birth of their son Isaac. Furthermore, the child who is to be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth will be like the Old Testament prophets. Like Samson in the book of Judges, the boy will not drink alcohol. Instead, he will âhave the spirit and power of Elijah.â As a fulfillment of Isaiahâs words, the boy will âprepare the way of the Lord.â
The angel says, âI am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.â
Cynics would say the story of the angel is a âmythologicalâ element which Luke added to the simple story of John the Baptistâs birth. Not believing in the supernatural, the cynic has no place for angels. They are no more than fairy godmother like figures that add interest and wonder to a natural story.
It would be narrow minded to be so dismissive. Intelligent, noncorporeal beings are one of the common features of all world religions â not just Christianity. Stories about encounters with angels are so universal to the human experience that they cannot simply be dismissed with a scornful wave of the hand. These encounters in every society and religion are remarkably similar, and Zechariahâs account aligns with them.
The angel Gabriel says that he is a messenger from God, and the Greek word âangelos,â from which we get âangel,â means âmessenger.â Gabriel is one of the archangels who the sages place in the highest order of the angelic hierarchy, but his rank in the hierarchy is secondary to the part he plays in the Advent story.
Gabriel is an important bridge from Godâs revelation in the Old Testament to the truth he is about to reveal in his sonâthe Christ child. Gabrielâs message to Zechariah and Elizabeth about the birth of a son heralds the coming of the forerunner of the Christ. The Old Testament prophets had foretold one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and Gabrielâs message to Zechariah is an important validation of John the Baptistâs claims to fulfill those prophecies.
As Gabriel is a bridge between the old covenant and the new, so John the Baptist himself has one foot in the old world and one in the new. He appears, as Gabriel says he would, as the last of the prophets. His desert hermitage, his rough garb and uncompromising preaching shows him to be an incarnation and summary of the whole Old Testament, which points to Christ and illuminates Christâs mission and message for the world.
What is the angel Gabrielâs advent message to us today? Three things:
First, that we should always be watchful and waiting for the word of the Lord. He may indeed speak to us through the message of an angel, but his message is more likely to come to us through more natural means. Zechariah was in the midst of his duties of worship when the message came. Therefore, if we are to hear the message, then we must stop in the midst of our busy Christmas preparations to make time to listen within genuine prayer and worship.
Secondly, Gabriel reminds us that Godâs love for us is rooted in the past, alive in the present and full of hope for the future. Godâs ways are not our ways and Gabrielâs shocking message to Zechariah and to us is that the God who is in charge of history is also a God of surprises. He is doing things we cannot see, and when the message comes we need to respond with wonder, faith and obedience.
Finally, Gabriel, like every messenger from God, gives ultimate glory to Jesus Christ the Lord. His message to Zechariah was to prepare for the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear this Advent will also be a time to get rid of all obstacles, âmake the rough places smoothâ to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ the king.
Here, in the Nativity Cycle, the drama of the announcement of a forthcoming son to the aged and barren Elizabeth and Zacharias is emphasized by the simplicity of the composition, the movement of the lines from top to bottom- from heaven to earth- and the strength of the colors. The shades of blue and gold, reaching down from Heaven, symbolize eternal light and the illumination of divine revelation. The Altar of Incense- the holy place of liturgical prayer- is symbolically placed in the center. To the right, stands priest Zacharias, and to the left, stands Archangel Gabriel who proclaims the news of the birth of the Forerunner, and pronounces sentence upon Zacharias for his lack of faith.
John Chrysosotom and other Fathers used Scripture to show that from this announcement to Zacheriah, we can have confidence that December 25 is the earthly birthday of Jesus Christ.
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