Today we lit the Advent candle of joy, and what is more joyful than Angels. Who doesn’t love angels? What comes to mind when you hear the term? Big glowing wings, halo’s, long white robs (with no food stains as everyone knows an angel is far too graceful to drip spaghetti sauce down their front…)
Now their are many types… Cherubim and Seraphim, Guardian, and my personal favorite, the ones lead by Christopher Lloyd that appeared in the outfield to help a Baseball team when the pennant back in the early 90’s film. Christopher Lloyd probably isn’t what one pictures an angel to look like, but may actually be more accurate than the figurine atop your Christmas tree. Mentioned some 273 times in the Bible there is but one female angelic reference: “Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.” Zechariah 5:9
Furthermore, only 5 of these angels are named! Can anyone name them? There is Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and… by the end of the sermon we will try again!
What is an angel? We opened with George Whitefield’s, “Hark the Herald Angel Sings,” and that title helps answer that in full advent mentality… Hark, Listen! The Herald (foretelling) messenger sings.
An angel is a messenger, simple as that, and today they sing because of the blessed nature of their message.
So we turn to Luke’s Gospel, in the excitement of Christmas, but find that neither Mary or Joseph, nor Zechariah or Elizabeth were all too excited by the Angel’s presence…
Luke 1:11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. (Gabriel in this instance, his name meaning “Champion of God)
12 When Zechariah, (the soon to be father of John the Baptist) saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
Right there, first emotion: “fear…”
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.
Gabriel goes on to explain John the Baptist’s importance as the prophetic voice who will pave the way for the Messiah, to be born a short time later. A calling that bears with it a good deal of responsibility, some pain, and lot of pressure…
“Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
(& we move from fear to doubt… )
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Pause. “Good News…” This term is where we get the word “Gospel” in our language. When you are told to “share the Gospel,” it means share the “Good news.” Zechariah at this point could be thinking many things and I am going to venture on a limb and say “good news” wasn’t top on the list. He was up there in years, ready to launch into a blissful retirement with his bride, Elizabeth; a happy life of cruise ships and shuffleboard, but no, Gabriel has “Good News?”
So Zechariah was skeptical, and rightfully so… and Gabriel really wasn’t the most nurturing of supporters. Gabriel didn’t take his hand or comfort a timid Zechariah with a hug, instead he sent him on his way to contemplate in silence the unbelievable responsibility that he was just given. And so the story continues…
…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 blessed! The Lord is with you.”
(Again that word “blessed,” favored. Hark, the herald Gabriel once again sings “blessings” upon our characters.)
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.”
Are you seeing a relationship occurring between blessing and fear?
Blessed, Macaros… It can be translated as “Happy,” but the word, happy (the giggling joyous type) was not the emotion that overtook any of the four future parents in this story. That is because true happiness requires a great deal of faith, and faith is not easy!
The words, blessed and faith, are often intertwined in scripture, and faith is essential because our blessings do not always present the most attractive of scenarios.
The revolving definition of the pair of words lies in our being blessed with faith to know that God is working through us, that we are “set apart” to do God’s will, and gifted to receive God’s grace, but as I mentioned some weeks ago at thanksgiving, Grace, though free, is not cheap. With Grace comes responsibility and that can indeed blur the line between a blessing and a burden…
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, where Jesus lists what it means to be “blessed.” The passage does not overflow with gleeful happiness!
We have looked at this passage before, “Blessed are the meek, the persecuted, the peacemaker, the poor…”
“Bless my Mommy, Daddy, and the guy next door with the three legged dog?” I’d pray as a child at bedtime… Wow! I had no idea what I was saying! “Let hose I love be poor, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and persecuted.” I may be writing some apology cards instead of Christmas cards this year to all the people that I have prayed for in the past!
Where is the happiness hiding? To answer that, let us turn to Charlie Brown.
“I think there must be something wrong with me Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy,” he says. “I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed…” Linus responds by reading the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke (an outrageous risk for a cartoonist to take in our society.)
Blessed. It doesn’t always mean merry. Christmas can be a hard time because we expect it to be lighthearted and joyous. Christianity can be a very difficult, and depressing, undertaking, and part of that is, as Charlie Brown alluded, lies in the pre-conceived ideas of “how we are supposed to feel,” how we are “supposed to act,” and “who we are supposed to be” that we can’t always live up to.
K. Chesterson wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.” Turning back to Charlie Brown, it is little Sally who sought the easy glee of the holiday saying, “If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself… just send money. How about tens and twenties.”
Yeah that’s probably right about where Joseph was. Hey God, how about, instead of sending Gabriel with a message of salvation and the foretelling of a lifetime of struggle, you send him with some money? The Christian ideal is hard… but though it’d be easier to leave it untried, it would never allow us true happiness.
I wrote this sermon yesterday drowning in a bit of depression and guilt. You know that the most depressed group of professionals in the world are pastors? One reason for that is that not too many pulpits allow a pastor to proclaim their imperfections… thus the blessing of the calling becomes a burden when they hold in their shortcomings. Well we don’t have a Pulpit!
Why would Joseph and Zechariah not believe Gabriel’s call? It was pretty obvious he was an Angel? Its because they didn’t feel worthy of it.
Joseph was a normal guy, a carpenter. How many carpenters do you know that lead perfect and blameless lives? (I could use some repair work if ya have one!)
So yesterday I sat there, depressed, and with a bit of a hangover. Yes that’s right, just admitted to that publicly… I messed up and drank way too much Thursday night. So along with the throbbing head and upside down stomach, I was burdened yesterday by thoughts of how badly I screwed up, how horrible a role model that I was, and how nice it would be to go out on a random Thursday night and not wake up the next morning with the painful guilt of having AGAIN “missed the mark.”
(Sin, by the way, is an archery term that means “missed the mark.”)
I often feel that I miss it more than I hit it, and the “blessing” of Grace can cause the burdensome guilt when I fall short.
To start this sermon, I asked if we could name all the “named” angels in the Bible… we hit four out of five. You know who that last one is? Lucifer. The fallen Angel.
See, even Angel’s miss the mark… we are not perfect, and that is not the point of God’s blessing us with the role and responsibility of being “Christian.”
You know, I hold an archery record to this day at Magothy River Middle… Well loading my bow, I got distracted and let go of the arrow… Yes I was the only student to shoot himself in the foot (and have the scare to prove it!)
We miss the mark, and when we let those slips brew in our soul, we truly shoot ourselves in the foot.
We do not do a prayer of confession often in this service, and I apologize for that, because it is an essential and a very exciting component. Unfortunately in the Catholic church of old, confession was a time of guilt and pain, but it shouldn’t be! I saw a T-shirt once that seemed all too fitting… it was a confession, and simply said, “Dear God. I can explain.” God desires grace to be a blessing, not a burden, to be what adds fullness and not pain to our lives; its as Jesus states in Matt 11:30, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Join me in a prayer of confession:
Holy God, we come to you today perfectly imperfect. Our thoughts are not always pure, our actions not always just, our words not always the full embodiment of love, and well, we often shoot ourselves in the foot. It is through our flaws that we realize our need for you in our lives. We lift up to you the sins and transgressions that separate us from your loving grace. God there are many times when all we can say is, I can explain… and sadly most the time we can’t! Thank you for understanding, for loving us, for not losing faith in us, and for blessing us with your forgiveness and grace… now God, give us the humility to accept that Good News. Amen.
Friends, I bring you good news, born onto us is he who has granted us forgiveness…
Discussion: What responsibility would you like to free yourself from? What do you gain through it?