Angels show up all over the place in stories of this season.  We’ll be seeing quite a lot more of them over the next month or so.  The best-known appearance is in today’s scripture: Gabriel shows up to tell Mary she will bear a son.  In other appearances: an angel tells Zacharaiah that his aged wide Elizabeth will have a son (he will become John the Baptist); in Matthew’s telling, angels visit Joseph in dreams, and; in Luke again, a multitude of angels tell shepherds of Jesus’ birth.

In all these instances, angels appear as carriers of news form God.  Messengers.  Intermediaries who appear among us…

…and who, it seems, anticipate that humans will experience fear when angels appear.  Perhaps humans become fearful in the sense of awe, wonder, and breathless astonishment in the presence of angels.  Perhaps we grow fearful in the presence of angels precisely because they carry messages from the Divine.

Messages that disrupt life as we know it.

Messages that irrevocably mess up our plans.

Messages that expose us to scandal and risk.

All of that was true for Mary.  All of that may be true for us.  So we often don’t listen.

In a poem called “Annunciation,” Denise Levertov notes: “Aren’t there annunciations / of one sort or another / in most lives?”  Some accept the word given, she says.  Most of us do not, and “the gates close.”  We must wonder, then, what we are closing the gates to when we do not listen to the word of the Divine spoken to us.

The writer Wendy Wright recognized the same tendency among people and suggests that “One of the challenges of the Advent season is to awaken…and to become alive to secret messages, to the whispers of hidden voices and the touch of God….We must be alert for [angels’] arrival, open to hear their words.” (The Vigil, 73)

As Mary did. As Zachariah did.  As Joseph did.  As the shepherds did.  Despite their fears.

Scripture and tradition tell us that messenger angels appear in many forms.  Sometimes humans carry messages from the Divine.  Sometimes a being from a different dimension appears (as in today’s scripture).  Other sources of spiritual wisdom suggest that we know words from the Divine in our own deepest hearts, as when President Lincoln referred to the “better angels of our nature” in his first inaugural address.  A more common image of this idea shows up in cartoons where an angel rests upon one shoulder whispering into an ear, and a devilish figure rests upon another shoulder doing the same thing. Lots of times the shoulder-sitters resemble the person they’re whispering to.

No matter how messenger angels appear in our lives they always present us with some challenges:

We must believe that words from the Divine appear in our lives.

We must be alert.

We must be discerning.

We must be open to a word from the Divine.

We must be willing to encounter and embrace Mystery.

Above all, we must not fear.

The word of God carried by messenger angels among us disrupts our lives—if we let it.

The word of God carried by messenger angels among us asks us to be vulnerable and risk-taking.

The word of God carried by messenger angels discomforts us and challenges us.  It asks us to believe the impossible and undertake the unlikely.

And we must not fear.

Today we begin moving through a season that asks us to let a word of God change our lives and the world.  A season that asks us to bear the Divine into the world.  The messenger angel’s words to Mary are meant for all of us:

Let the Holy One speak to you.

Open your life to God’s life within you.

And do not be afraid.

Scripture: Luke 1:24-34

-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk