When an angel comes to an individual to make an announcement, there’s both the assurance of divine protection and, usually, a catch. An angelic visit—whether to announce a baby or a commission or to interpret a vision—typically requires a response.
Light of the World
One of the joys of the holiday season is telling and retelling the stories of Jesus’ birth as they come to us in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as other traditions. In the various accounts, there are many “characters” who play particular roles. There are, of course, the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the magi, King Herod, Emperor Augustus, the animals, and numerous angels. An angel visits Zechariah to tell him Elizabeth will have a child. An angel visits Mary to tell her she too will have a child. An angel visits Joseph to tell him not to abandon Mary. An angel, along with a host of angels, visits the shepherds to tell them what has happened in Bethlehem.
All these angels bring news of something that is going to happen. And as Amy-Jill Levine states, the news comes with a catch. The news requires some response. Zechariah loses his voice until the birth of the child whom he names John. Even the naming is a catch—don’t follow the normal tradition and name the child after yourself or some family member but name him John. Mary must respond to the angel’s news by either accepting or rejecting what is being asked of her. Joseph must risk the scorn of the community by standing with Mary in this unexpected pregnancy. And the shepherds must respond to the news by leaving the fields and their flocks and going to Bethlehem to see what has happened.
I don’t know anyone who has had an angelic visitation. Or maybe they haven’t been willing to tell about the visitation. Honestly, I’m not sure how I would react if I were to experience such a visitation, and I know I would be tempted to keep it to myself. But I hope that like the “characters” in the birth narratives, I will be able to respond positively. And I hope that I will be up to the “catch.”
Then again, maybe I need to acknowledge that there have been angelic visitations which I haven’t recognized as such. There have the smiles (and sometime wailing) of babies I have held at baptisms. There have been those amazing insights kids give during Children’s Time. There has been music that had chills running down my spine. There have been challenging questions during Bible studies. There has been laughter in the midst of a staff and church council meetings. There have been a plethora of likely angelic visitations that I just haven’t recognized as such.
I hope that as we approach Christmas this year, we will all look for the angels who are trying to get our attention. And I hope that we will be able to respond to whatever the catch might be!
Peace, shalom, paix, salaam, heiwa,