The biblical image of an angel is quite different from the “Hallmark” version that is so popular today. Ancient people saw angels as fearsome messengers of God. Angels were not pictured as the beautiful, flowing gowned, feathery-winged human-like beings we place on the tops of Christmas Trees. They were powerful, frightening, half animal/half human creatures. They spoke for God and so they portrayed the power and majesty of God. In the Gospel of Luke, the two times that angels speak, their message begins with the statement, “Do not be afraid!” Mary, in this story and the Shepherds in the Christmas story respond with courage. They believe that what the angels say is true and they act upon it so that the Word might be made flesh.
We live in no less fearsome times than that of Mary. Economic hardships, challenges to health, threats of violence, instability of families, changing cultural standards all test our ability to respond to the Word of God so that it might be enfleshed in us. In the face of these challenges, the words of Gabriel are as appropriate to us as they were to Mary and the Shepherds. Do not be afraid! The promise of God’s messenger is that the Lord is truly with us and we can depend on His Providence. As we look forward to the celebration of Christmas and the beginning New Year, let this be our hope and consolation.
“...let this be our hope and consolation.”