The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road, by James Tissot

262. Angels and the Birth of the Messiah

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:26-38, NRSV ]

The Archangel Gabriel announces the birth of John the Bapti  

  1. The Archangel Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariahby Bonifazio Veronese, 1550.
  2. The Annunciation, by Sandro Botticelli, 1489
  3. Joseph’s Dream, by Gaetano Gandolfi, c.1790

In his Advent Reflection given at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on December 15, 2019 Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle chose “angels” as his theme. What follows attempts to capture the main line of his reflection for our year-end post-slot.

1. To Be An Angel Is to Have a Mission

Angels are creatures of God and they are essentially assistants. They assist in the encounter of God and human beings. As assistants, angels always have a mission.

To an important event where God and humanity are to come together, an angel is sent. Whenever God wishes to forge a level of partnership (a sort of covenant, if you will) between God and humans, an angel is dispatched.

The apex of the human partnership with God is of course the begetting of the Son of God, true God and true man through Whom all things were made. No wonder we see lots of angels and archangels around at the time of the Nativity of Jesus.

2. The Testimonies of the Old and New Testaments

The Old Testament mentions angels many times. When Ezekiel wrote of his visions of God  (Ezekiel 1), he described the angels as living creatures, and of human form. When Isaiah wrote about a vision of God in the Temple, (Isaiah 6:1-3), he described the Seraphs in attendance who praised God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hoststhe whole earth is full of his glory.” At Mass, we sing that, so that the earthly liturgy joins the heavenly liturgy, and like angels we join the heavenly choir. Imagine the great honour to join our voices with the heavenly hosts in praising God. We are invited at that part of the Mass to be with angels.

Gabriel means God is my strength, which points to the significance his name bears to his mission. Michael makes people know they are neither God nor equal to God. Raphael reveals God who heals and in the Book of Tobit cures Tobit of blindness. He manifests the might of God, to remind the forces that they cannot surpass God. Do not pretend to.

The angels make people realize they have met God and they tremble. Thanks to angels’ message and guidance, humans could bear the encounter.

As they announced the divine message, the angels also heralded a new moment in history at the Annunciations. The first of these announcements in the New Testament appears in Luke 1:5-25 where an angel revealed to Zechariah, an old man with an aged barren wife, that he would have a son. That son, to be named John, would grow up to be an ascetic prophet and herald for the Son of God, to prepare the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah’s doubt was expressed in terms of “How can…? The second announcement is in Luke 1:26-38 which narrates angel Gabriel’s revelation to Virgin Mary in Nazareth. The original greeting was “Rejoice, Mary.” Mary’s reaction to the angel’s announcement of her virginal conception paralleled that of Zechariah, expressed as “How can…?” But there was a decisive difference. Mary, wise and composed, raised the right questions. Crucially, unlike Zechariah who disbelieved and was struck dumb, Mary believed and was not made speech-impaired.

Matthew 1:18-25 brings us the third story in which an angel revealed God’s message to Joseph: he has a role to play in God’s plan. Then, in Luke 2:8-14, we have an angel visiting shepherds and a heavenly host praising God. So at the Gloria, we again sing with the angels. The series of angelic appearances continued in Matthew 2:13-15 where Joseph was warned of Herod’s plan to kill the Child Jesus, directing Joseph to take the Mother and Child to Egypt. The angels’ message helped them to escape from a massacre. Finally, in Matthew 2:19-23, angel guided Joseph in the next step to return to Israel.

Without the angels, the story of the first Advent and of Christmas would be written differently. The praises of the angels remind us that something earth shaking, something history-making is happening. The union between God and humanity, heaven and earth, reaches its peak in the birth of Jesus. And so angels and archangels must be present.

Attention ought to be consciously applied to receiving the true meaning of Advent and Christmas – that it is about the meeting between God and human beings in this simple child Jesus. We take it for granted that the Son of God will be born a human being. What is the real impact and significance in history, in creation? We often neglect to enter the deeper reflection.

3. We Are Asked to Continue the Mission of the Angels

At Christmas, we are reminded once again that we are called to continue the mission of the angels, to remind the world and the church of the true meaning of the birth of Christ and how it changes history.

Each one of us could be an angel. “Angel” is found inside the word “evangelium” – the Good News. What better good news than heaven and earth will be one. With Emmanuel – God with us – heaven will always be on earth; God will not leave us. Earth and humanity will always have divine presence. Everything we now do and touch will have the presence of God.

We need to remind the world that there is a Christmas because the Son of God became human being. We do not just do that by the symbols of expensive presents in beautiful ribbons. We need to bring back the crib to remind all that the Son of God was born in a manger. We must not deprive Christmas of its true meaning and significance. The world needs angels in the here and now. Each one of us is an angel, so be the voice, the guardian of this coming together, the real blessedness, of God to human beings. That makes us an angel, making Christmas an event that is present everyday. Everyday we should remind people of the closeness of God. Be an angel to communicate that.

This mission is all the more important because there is a lot of fake news going on everywhere. Fake news is a fictitious report on current events. It is usually fabricated with attractive headlines that both mislead and compel people to pass it on to deceive more people. Fake news is patently false and is carefully packaged to deceive people into thinking that it is real. The problem is heightened in our time because we are living in an “information” society but not a “knowledge” society. We need to worry about the growing culture of superficiality and the people not growing deeply in knowledge. Angels are assistants. We must assist and contribute to the growth of the people in knowledge and not just in the superficial passing of information.

The people who spread superficial information are certainly not angels. The good news of Jesus born in a manger was announced by an angel. When Jesus was arrested, fake news became the reason for his sentence. According to Matthew 26, the chief priest and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death. And in verse 60, many false witnesses came forward. His birth was announced by angels; his death was announced and prepared for by false witnesses, by bearers of fake news. We should not forget that. Birth assisted with angels; death assisted with false witnesses. Christians must choose. Will we be for birth and life by being angels, or will we be for death and destruction by being false witnesses?

And in the face of all that, what was Jesus’ reaction? Jesus was silent. He who was the truth was silent. He was sufficient.

Who could have been an angel at that time? Peter. But three times he denied Jesus. Bishops can be angels and sometimes, false witnesses.

The birth of Jesus was ushered in by angels; the death of Jesus was prepared for by people who fabricated false witnesses. But God triumphed. God raised Jesus to life. Again, angels announced his resurrection. You find angels when the encounter between God and human beings erupts in our midst.

It is not enough to stop spreading false information. We must communicate the good news (Ephesians 4:25-32). Today, the choice is before us. Will you be an angel and bearer of the life-giving presence of God or will you be bearers of fake news that brings about death?

Pause, and listen to God calling you in a special way to be an angel of good news.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, December 2020. All rights reserved.

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