First Congregational Church
December 5, 2021
2nd Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:26-38 & Matthew 1:18-25
“The Lesser-Knowns of the Nativity”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So there was the time when God was doing all the creation stuff of life, specifically designing cats, and God finally delegated some of the work, telling an angel to make the most fluffy, cute thing the angel could think of. When the angel asked if there was anything else, with a glimmer in God’s eye, God said, “Yes! Put razor blades on its feet!”
As we listen to the scripture passages this morning, I invite you to enter into them as a by-stander, or if you are into it, an elf on a shelf. In the first passage, it says that the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, and a few words later, it says that the angel went to Mary. So I got to wondering if Gabriel was walking down the street until he got to Mary’s house. If so, what was he wearing - white, orange, tunic, toga, street clothes? And what was Mary doing when he interrupts her - making lunch, making soap, hanging the laundry to dry?
The second passage has an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream. Same angel, Gabriel? What was that angel wearing? What was Joseph doing in his dream - working in his woodshed, sitting on the roof in the cool of an evening? Was the dream of a dream of Joseph dreaming?
After spying on the scenes, imagine that you are Mary, you are Joseph. If an angel came to you, what might your first reaction be?
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Thank you, Cathy and Myra. Some time back I tucked away a quote by Rabbi Abraham Heschel. A generation ago, he said, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”
If you’re looking for a subject to wonder about, let me suggest angels. In fact, the term for that study is Angelology, but gosh is it a little crazy. The bible uses the term angel or angels nearly 400 times, and then there’s a huge store of information from writers outside the Biblical accounts.
Perhaps to pique at least one person’s interest, angels are organized into orders, or choirs. The highest order, so sorted by one of the great Paul’s students Dionysius, contains the seraphim, cherubim and thrones. Thrones are described as creatures usually depicted by wheels with many eyes, functioning as the actual chariots of God driven by cherubs.
The middle order of angels is made up of Dominions, Virtues and Powers. Dominions regulate the duties of the lower angels, Virtues control the elements and Powers are angels with power over evil forces.
The lowest order of angels is Principalities, Archangels and Angels. Principalities or Rulers are the angels that guide and protect nations, or groups of peoples, and institutions such as the Church. Archangels are head messengers, and although Gabriel is the only named one in the Protestant version of the Bible, others sometimes considered as such are Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Jewish writers attest to seven archangels. Angels are just plain messengers, concerned with the affairs of humans, although I think that as humans, we tend to lump them all under this name.
The thing is is that having been created before earth was created, they’ve been around far longer and more intimately than we may give them credit. Although there are no specific instances of it, there is a thought that angels perhaps sang and shouted at God’s creation of the earth. Who knows what they did when the other planets and galaxies were created, but back to the point.
Angels were a part of the nativity story long before there was any real baby, and angels continued to minister to Jesus through out his life, even when he was in the desert. There are some who believe that each of us has our own personal angel, but that’s topic for another time. The point for this morning is that one of the lesser appreciated surrounding the nativity is the angel of the Lord and the great company of the heavenly host appearing with that angel when Emmanuel was born. What did they look like? What were they wearing? What did their voices sound like? If angels are one of the main lesser-knowns of the nativity, I think wonder would be the second.
As we have come together this day, near and far, we have this holy sacrament that we will share momentarily, also filled with great wonder. Fruit and grain, crushed and remade into life giving and life affirming blessings that would be considered a big deal by some with nothing to eat this day. A meal of minuscule proportions, huge in connection - using the same elements Jesus used with the disciples at his last meal, wide in connection with brothers and sister throughout time and breadth of earth. From before time, through Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer to baby, man and Savior, to each of us.
We brush past the Spirit of Christmas when we hear of Scrooge and A Christmas Carol, or the 2015 movie called The Spirit of Christmas with a cast of no one I recognized. We are busy getting things done - from shopping to baking to becoming engrossed in phone apps - mostly good things that are needful and even necessary.
But we also need to wonder and to better attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit - which was also there at the hallowed birth of Christ - as well as be reminded that there is so much more to this life than we can fathom. Thomas Aquinas said, “An angel can illumine the thought and mind of man by strengthening the power of vision and by bringing within his reach some truth which the angel himself contemplates.”
As we prepare our hearts and minds for this service of bread and cup, let us allow ourselves the moments to see and wonder of the cosmic and personal attention of this moment in time with all that surrounds us, even richer than what surrounded the stable so long ago.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.