Modeling the Message and Mission of the Angels this Advent
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation. In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more amazing Story behind it.
Hark the Herald Angels
Last week we looked at the four Old Testament “mothers” of Christ and how they can enrich our experience of the upcoming season of Advent. This week I want to focus on some other “supporting actors” in the saving story of this season: the Angels.
A few years ago, I created a presentation called Angels: the Biblical Story of Our Unseen Allies. Although I thought I knew the Story of Salvation very well, I found myself repeatedly surprised to rediscover how present the angels are throughout the Bible Timeline. In fact, every period of the Timeline has angels present and helping at key moments. Of course, when we reach the infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, the presence of angels is intensified.
The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the coming of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:11-19) and brings Mary the amazing news of the conception and coming of Jesus (Lk. 1:26-38). Her husband Joseph will receive two visits from angels (Mt. 1:20-24; 2:13,19).
But my favorite angelic event is the visit to the shepherds (Luke 2:9-15). Shepherds were among the poorest and marginalized classes of people in the first century. That’s not insignificant. The angels didn’t appear to King Herod, a Roman official, or a Temple leader. They went to the fringes and announced the greatest message of human history to God’s little ones.
Given these different angelic moments, I want to propose three ways we can model the angels that surround the Advent of Jesus:
When the angels announce the Good News of Jesus to the shepherds, it seems the whole of heaven breaks out in response, ““Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk. 2:14). The shepherds then rush to see the King in the manger. After encountering the Holy Family, they take up the song of the angels, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk. 2:20). I love that we do this every time we pray the Gloria in the Mass. We are taking up the song of the angels and echoing the praise of the poor shepherds. Every Mass is then an invitation to the mystery of the Nativity. Consider making a commitment to attend Mass more frequently during this Advent Season. Use the Gloria as a point of meditation during your prayer times.
Angels almost always bring a message. In the Infancy Narratives, it is a message of hope and joy. We continue the work of the angels when we become faithful and fearless witnesses of this same Good News to our generation. Advent is a perfect time to share the Good News about Jesus. We can do this in so many ways. Consider writing a letter to your family and friends expressing what this Good News means to you personally and tuck it in an Advent or Christmas card.
Works of Mercy
The angelic hosts appeared to the poor shepherds first, a beautiful prefigurement of the Church’s preferential love for the poor. I often think that Mary very likely showed them hospitality when they came to worship her Son, sharing the meager food the Holy Family may have had with them. Consider a special offering to local or parish-based ministries in your area this Advent. Invite a widow, widower or single person in your parish to share a meal with your family. Make a simple bag of toiletries, water and hand warmers to share with the homeless you may encounter.
Painting “Anunciación” by Bartolome Murillo