First Sunday in Advent
“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” Perry Como croons on the car radio. The song, still popular after fifty years, tells about a man from Tennessee traveling north to Pennsylvania, while Pennsylvanians head south. “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific,” because each person travels to the place he considers home. “If you want to be happy in a million ways,” the song concludes—and many of us wistfully agree—“For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.”
Ironically, none of the participants in the biblical narratives spent the first Christmas in the familiar comforts of home. Each one journeyed away from home to create the events we celebrate each December. During my Advent blogs, I’m going to write about some of these long-ago travelers. Maybe they will teach us something about our own journeys.
The first traveler’s name means “strong man of God,” though he wasn’t a man at all. Gabriel was an angel, one of only two angels whose names are recorded in all of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
Gabriel traveled from the presence of God to the inner sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem, where an old priest burned incense. Gabriel startled Zechariah, who never expected to meet God’s messenger in God’s house. The angel announced good news to the old man: His wife Elizabeth would finally give him a son, and this son would proclaim to the people of Israel the coming of the Messiah.
When Zechariah expressed doubt, the angel replied, “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.”
Half a year later, God sent Gabriel on a second journey, this time to Nazareth, a town in Israel’s Galilee region. There he delivered a greeting—and a prophecy—to a young woman named Mary. God had chosen her to be the mother of the Son of God, the heir to King David’s throne. “Nothing is impossible with God,” Gabriel assured Mary, then left her. He is never mentioned in scripture again.
What insight can we glean from Gabriel’s Christmas journeys? Gabriel stood in the presence of God as a servant stands in the presence of his master, as a subject stands in the presence of his king. God revealed his plans and entrusted delivery of his messages to the one who stood in his presence.
Perhaps Gabriel tells us to step away from the busy-ness of the Christmas season and stand in the presence of God. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16, New Living Translation
May Gabriel’s example lead us into God’s presence and from God’s presence to the journey God has for us. Amen.