Lingers in the Shadows

Luke 1:26-38 – 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 18, 2011

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God…” (Luke 1:26)

Visiting the old man had been easier.

Maybe it was because The Messenger chose a sanctuary for the encounter. The whole world is holy, but still, with the silence and candles, the sacred space enhanced the announcement he prepared for Zechariah.

Advent’s Fourth Word: ANGEL

There’s this, too: maybe Zechariah—honestly humble and intentionally kind by all accounts—felt he deserved a break. Thought God should do a deed or two for him. Yes, The Messenger mused, the old man was easy. Not once in the sanctuary conversation did he have to consult his notes or raise his voice or make an unnecessary promise. And it didn’t surprise The Messenger when Elizabeth’s elderly husband couldn’t mutter a word afterwards. Awe can do that. The Messenger had seen it before with humans—the stupor, the incoherent explanations, the babbling about a dream.

Wings of desire...

And yet now this: this girl, this woman. Mary is both and neither. He studies her from the shadows; he is alert, prepared and he never hesitated when told he would be her witness. It’s his job, after all. He’s done it before, and hopes he’ll continue the work for a long time. The Messenger relishes playing the muse, the voice, the dream, the whisper, the unexpected idea, the rush of wind, the stillness of night, the surge of adrenalin, the calm of conviction, the best hope and last chance.

He didn’t ask why her or why now. Well above his pay grade, thank you very much.

Still he lingers in the shadows, leaning against the wall, almost as if hiding. As if he’s more afraid and less confident. This surprises him.

No, it doesn’t.

Mary unsettles The Messenger, but not because she appears so innocent or young. Oh yes, she’s innocent enough and younger than he expected, but those qualities aren’t causing his feet to be made of lead and throat to feel like it’s filled with stones.

What then? What makes her different?

Though possessing a quick wit, The Messenger can conjure no answer to explain his hesitation as he stands in Mary’s presence. But he also must move in her presence. He must speak. The words are ready, rehearsed. And, whether or not she’ll listen, he won’t know if he remains sheltered in the room’s corners where the candle’s light barely reaches. With a sigh, a prayer, a skip of his holy heart, he eases into the light of Mary’s open-eyed dreaming . . . and he speaks.

He does well. The Messenger doesn’t stumble when he says “throne of his ancestor David” or even the pretentious, “The Most High will overshadow you.”

She pays attention as if her next breath depended on it. Head bowed, the few questions Mary asks aren’t panicked, and there’s no inkling of her doubting or debating him. Not really. Not compared to others. Moses whined, but not her. Jeremiah complained, but not her. Sarah laughed, but not her.

Then she gazes at him. Unblinking. Steady. The Messenger knows that seconds from now, and a lifetime from now, all she’ll remember is a voice within a dream, imagination borne of slumber. Nonetheless, her look indicates she believes this moment is real, that The Messenger’s prepared words are only and especially for her. But her look, after he’s finished, also hints Mary needs something more.

The Messenger has nothing more. His words are spent, like cornhusks on the floor or chaff in the wind. Useless. Gone.

And so he says what he believes. He says what he knows is true, though he could never prove it and can only pray that it’s sufficient. He hasn’t prepared these words. They just come out . . .

. . . For nothing will be impossible with God.

The Messenger worries she heard the tremble in his voice.

*      *      *

Musing about angels is as easy as it is foolish. Not for one rational, post-modern moment do I think Mary had a heavenly visitor. (And don’t get me started about her “virginity.”) But I can’t ignore the hundreds of angelic sightings in the Bible’s onionskin thin pages. They appear in bold ways or are barely noticed. Gabriel is one of the few named angels. Michael stars in Revelations’ rumblings. The Apocrypha’s Tobit and II Esdras name and claim some angels. You probably know others.

But believe in ‘em? Only when my fingers tap out fictional tales about wings of desire* on the keyboard. Still, there’s this with the Advent journey . . . though irrational and fanciful, I wonder if Mary sensed a presence. A challenge. A reassurance. A nudge, in a sleeping or waking dream, prompting her to know God trusted her. Needed her. Was pleased with her beyond what words can describe.

This I also wonder enough to believe . . . God sees all of us in that way, a people trustworthy, necessary, loved.

Hush, listen . . .

Hear it? Sense it? Feel it? Stay alert. Prepare. Witness.

With God, all things are . . .


*Had to sneak in the title of my favorite movie about angels. Some like the angel in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. There’s much to admire in Warren Beatty’s version of HEAVEN CAN WAIT. But I’m a WINGS OF DESIRE groupie. Yeah, for my viewing pleasure, the best angel movie ever . . .

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1 Comment

  1. Once more…my favorite Angel movies are Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” and “Michael” in which John Travolta plays the not so angelic title character. Both have great miracle scenes…. More anon.

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