The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

December 15, 2008

Gabriel's Announcement

It would not have been my first choice to receive this heavenly visitor. I am not accustomed to mystical visions. I am a practical woman; voices speaking in the night are strange to me. Angels are not part of the normal routine of my daily experience.

Why would a heavenly messenger come to me? I am a poor young woman, not someone any person of importance would bother to visit.

My name is Mary. This angel-visitor came to me the night after Joseph and I became engaged. It had started out as such a happy day, the excitement of knowing my life was committed to this man, our families celebrating together. In a small village, an engagement is always big news. For us it is as if we had become married already. The bond of engagement cannot be broken without great shame and deep pain.

Joseph is a good man, a strong man. I know Joseph will care for me and for our children when we have them. He will be a good provider. Joseph will respect me and together we will build a strong and loving family. I can trust Joseph. When our engagement was announced I felt sure that my future was secure.

But, that very night, the angel came and shattered my calm. He told me, his name was Gabriel. The name means “God is my strength.” I didn’t know it at the time, but would soon learn, that the news this angel brought meant I was going to greatly need God’s strength. Even the strength of my beloved Joseph would not be enough to face the events that would follow the angel’s announcement.

I don’t know what you think an angel looks like. I cannot really draw you a picture. Encountering an angel is more like a feeling deep inside. The angel presence felt to me like a powerful movement and yet, at the same time, perfect stillness and quiet. It was in that stillness the angel spoke.

At first I could not make sense of his words. He said I was greatly blessed and God is with me. He said I did not need to be afraid. I wasn’t really afraid, until he told me I didn’t need to be. Then I began to wonder. What does this strange visitation mean? How is this angel message going to change my life?

Then the angel told me I was going to become mysteriously pregnant even before Joseph and I were married. That is when I knew why he had said I should not be afraid. My heart began to flutter; I felt sick in my stomach. Perhaps at that moment, already, the miracle had begun. But all I knew was that something terrifying and bewildering was beginning to happen.

What would my family think? What would Joseph do? What would the village elders say? Surely, I would be an outcast. No one would believe the strange explanation Gabriel offered. What could it possibly mean to say God’s Spirit was going to come upon me and give me this child? Why did he have to be named Jesus?
I would have preferred to choose my first child’s name myself. But the angel did not seem to be open to negotiation. He simply announced, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” It’s not that “Jesus” is such a bad name. Like Gabriel, the name “Jesus” tells us something about God. It tells us that God saves people. God makes people whole. God gives the gift of life and helps us to be the people we were created to be.

As I listened to the angel and felt the hot air of God’s breath on my check, I wondered what it might mean to be saved. What is it that a person is created to be? What does a whole human life look like?

Then Gabriel went on to speak about the son I was to bear. It was the last thing the angel said that caught my attention. He said that my baby would “reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” I don’t know a lot about history; but I do know that all the human kingdoms that have ever been on this earth have all come to an end. We Jews know what it is like to see the kingdoms of men come and go. We are always waiting for some foreign ruler to pass in the hope that one day we might be able to rule our lives without the interference of others. Right now the Romans are in charge of my people and of the land where we live. Before them it was the Greeks and before them the Persians, the Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Egyptians. Since the days before our journey in the wilderness, someone else has always been in charge.

I may be young but I know enough to know that in life things don’t always go the way we may want them to go. Life follows a windy path; life goes up and life goes down. We never know what is coming next and sometimes the things that come are good and wonderful, other times they are hard and painful.

When the angel announced Jesus’ birth it felt like this was going to be one of the hard and painful times. And yet, the angel said that, in the midst of all this, there is a kingdom that will never end. When the angel spoke about this kingdom, I felt something deep inside me begin to stir. I touched a place in myself that I never really knew existed. It was a place that felt stronger and more real than all my fear and all my uncertainty. It felt solid and whole and good and true. And I knew that this is what the angel was talking about. I knew that my baby Jesus was going to grow up into a man who would help people find this solid, strong, deep, never-ending place in their lives.

When I found that place inside myself, it was not so hard any more for me to say yes to the angel. Suddenly, I was able to let it all be the way the angel had said. I knew I could not control my life. I knew that things were going to be difficult sometimes. I knew that I would experience pain and heartbreak with this baby. But I also knew that, whatever happened, I would be ok. I knew that nothing could hurt this kingdom inside me that never ends. My life would go on and I would trust that strong deep place. I would be able to rest in that place the angel had uncovered.

My baby was going to show the world this place of strength and love inside every person. He was going bring us all to that place where we know that “nothing will be impossible with God,” that place where we cannot be hurt and we will always be open, strong and loving. This is the place Jesus came to help us find. This is the gift God has given us in the child I bear.

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