Dr Kate Harrison Brennan launches our Advent series with a reflection on Christ interrupting our world in a beautiful, political and dramatic way.
Ross Clifford is the Principal at Morling Theological College in Sydney.
Today's reading is Luke 1:26-38
“Living in the presence of Angels.” That was the title for my talk at a special childrens' Christmas pageant service. The minister of the church was not happy. He told me that title won’t do as we focus on Jesus not angels! In fact, he said “I’ve removed the angels from the pageant and we just have the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and Wise Men. Now, no angels please Ross!" I explained this service was seeking to reach family and friends of the children, many of whom had no contact with the church. I stressed Angels are a wonderful entry point as most people believe in angels and connect them to the biblical narrative, and eventually he agreed.
I shared in the service that Angels are close to children. As we face the horrendous failures of the church with respect to child sex abuse, the word of God declares there will be harsh judgement on such sin. The angels are a child’s advocate and eternal friend (Matthew 18:10).
Unexpected beauty is often found in spiritual places we have closed our eyes to. Oh we are too sophisticated for that, perhaps we are just too busy to stop and see.
I love this passage. Imagine if Mary had her eyes and mind closed. No angels for me! She would not have heard of God’s call on her life. She would have missed hearing about God’s plan for her son and the world - “his Kingdom will never end”. However, this young woman was “favoured” for she lived with her eyes open to God’s unexpected beauty.
Unexpected beauty is for me found in unexpected “angel” encounters. The conversation with a stranger on the bus, listening to the story of the person selling you a copy of “Big Issue”, sharing openly with someone with different ethical opinions. And perhaps a “real” angel encounter! I do have angel stories, do you?
Another unexpected beauty is the Holy Spirit. The promise to Mary was that the Spirit would overshadow and empower her. Servanthood living is Spirit dependant – living in the presence of the Risen Jesus. The text reminds us that with the Spirit, “nothing is impossible with God”.
At advent, I often turn back to the Dothan story (2 Kings 6:9-23). The prophet Elisha, is surrounded by the enemy soldiers. In the morning Elisha’s servant came out of his tent, saw the enemy and cried out “Oh my Lord, what shall we do?” Oh unexpected beauty! The Prophet prayed “Lord open his eyes so he may see”. Then the Lord opened his eyes and he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire – God’s angelic forces. They were protected by the hand and majesty of God.
This advent will I be like Elisha or his servant? For me, as I live in our rational, hectic paced world, it’s a constant question. Am I closed or open to God’s supernatural unexpected beauty – angels and the Holy Spirit? Do I take my steps expecting such beauty, such encounters? I personally need to have the eyes of Elisha.
This advent we are surrounded by the forces of injustice, cruelty, abuse and violence. With eyes open, nothing is impossible.
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Daily Reading Luke 1:26-38
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.” 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?” 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 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.