“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke 1:26-27
I would love to meet Gabriel, the messenger who stands in the presence of God. Then again, I am not sure if I would like to meet Gabriel. He must be terrifying because in both his messages to Zechariah and Mary, he prefaces his message with, “Do not be afraid.” Maybe this is because the message he gives is challenging, or maybe it is because the messenger’s physical appearance is out of the ordinary. And just as soon as Gabriel is in the lives of those he meets, he is gone again. His is a brief, extraordinary appearance, interrupting the routine of life.
I can empathize with Gabriel. When I worked as a Chaplain Resident last year, people were often startled when I showed up. They each had their own conceptions of what a chaplain was and what the presence of one entailed. Often that conception materialized as the “Angel of Death.” I came to recognize that “look”–the one where people’s eyes widen and they try to make themselves as small as possible, sinking ever deeper into the Emergency Room seat. So I began to introduce myself much like Gabriel did. “My name is Courtney. I am the chaplain. Do not let that alarm you.” Gabriel is simply doing his job, and, yet, his very identity startles people. I wonder how many others, like Mary, were perplexed by his words, unable to hear what he said, distracted by the vessel delivering the message.
During this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus, but that birth starts with a startling message from a startling figure. I wonder who the “Gabriels” are in our lives? Who are those we may not be able to hear because their image frightens us, or they fall outside of the norm of whom we expect to deliver a message from God? What good news will they share, if we heed the lesson, “Do not be afraid,” and we listen with reverence? How can the extraordinary interrupt our routines this Advent?
Rev. Courtney Stamey is one of the pastoral residents at First Baptist Church. Part of her ministry is also with our partner Peacehaven Farm. She has been at First Baptist since September 2016. She and her husband, Michael, enjoy any and all outdoor activities.