Christmas Gifting

In today’s Gospel we see and hear from the Archangel Gabriel.  He comes to Mary to bring a message. This isn’t the first time we see an account of an angel bringing a message, Gabriel came just 6 months earlier to Zechariah and announced that his wife would give birth to St. John the Baptist.  In fact, angel activity has been recorded in the bible many times

  • Abraham told not to kill Isaac. (Genesis 22:11-1)
  • Manoah and his wife told of son to be born. (Judges 13:13-14)
  • Joseph had a message from an angel about Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24)
  • Shepherds all have message by angels about Jesus. (Luke 2:8-12)
  • Philip told to go to the desert. (Acts 8:26)
  • Paul is told that they would be delivered from the storm at sea. (Acts 27:23-24)

and on and on – there are almost 300 mentions in the Bible of angels!

Angel – the word isn’t a name as much as it is a description of what these spirits do.  It comes from the Greek word ‘anggelos’ and it means messenger.  They are primarily God’s messengers, at least angels and archangels.  There are more – we have put names to them. Pope Gregory the Great tells us ‘There are nine orders of angels, to wit, angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominations, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim.[1]  Existence outside of this reality is probably thick with them.  George Bernard Shaw says:  ‘In Heaven an angel is nobody in particular.’   There are many.

I have this vision that as we walk the journey of struggle between our sinful inclinations and our desire to be holy, angels are all around us fighting the agents of evil. I am not alone, St. Ambrose says: ‘We should pray to the angels, for they are given to us as guardians.’  That they are real, that they do God’s bidding, and that they love who God loves should be a given for each of us.  But this information shouldn’t blind us from the historical (biblically speaking) fact that encounters with angels are never a Hallmark Card moment; they are unnerving to say the least, terrifying is probably the best description. Dr. Paul Eymann speaks of this: ‘Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants! They are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe, not to reach out and tickle an adorable baby.[2]

I take this time to discuss angels because of the import this information brings to today’s Gospel.  Mary, devout though she was (the most devout, full of grace, immaculately conceived) must have been very distraught by the visit of an angel, indeed I imagine her terrified[3]. Not only by the appearance but by the message.  This messenger of God tells her that she is to become pregnant, prior to her finalization of marriage – an almost certain death sentence in her time and culture.  All she had to do was say yes to God and her life would be in jeopardy.

And she said yes!

In spite of the traumatic appearance of God’s messenger, in spite of the danger inherent in His message, Mary said yes.  Her trust in God was absolute.  So, like Abraham with his son Isaac; like Job; like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace Mary gives her total self to God’s designs.  In all of these, especially with our Blessed Mother, we see the same holy characteristic – humility; they are humble; they understand their place when viewed from the correct perspective, that of standing in front of God.  Mary’s great unconditional fiat ‘Be it done to me according to your word.’ is the greatest witness of trust and love and the truth it brings – next to her son’s obedience on the cross.  She loves her God and she knows who she is in His eyes. With acceptance of her small and absolutely precious place in God’s family Mary has the peace of mind to accept what He puts to her. Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, in his 2nd advent homily from last year speaking of this special realization said: ‘It consists in the quiet and tranquil sentiment of being nothing before God, but a nothing loved by Him![4] What freedom is realized with this gift of truth of self!  What power it can bring forth!  What grace can flow from acceptance of self as seen by God!

God gives Mary the gift of His only Son. Mary gives to God her absolute trust in His goodness and love. Both are wrapped in humility.  This my brothers and sisters is the greatest example of Christmas gifting. In a very important way, our tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is a remembrance of this foundational event. May each of us follow Mary’s example and offer to God this Christmas our gift absolute trust. After all, He comes to us and gives us the gift of Himself.

—————————————————————————–

[1] Pope Gregory the Great Homily
[2] http://christiananswers.net/q-acb/acb-t005.html
[3] Luke 1:29-30 ‘But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
[4] Fr. Cantalamessa, 12/13/13  2nd Advent Homily for Pope Francis

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