Note: A few years ago, I wrote a theologically and historically suspect — but otherwise reverent — Christmas story. It was such a fun exercise that I decided to do it again. This time — the birth of Jesus, from Angel Gabriel’s perspective.
by Gabriel, Angel
People always ask me, “Why did you have to be so hard on him and strike him deaf and mute? He was only asking a question.” By him, they mean Zacharias, and by the question, they mean when he asked, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.” It’s a fair question for people to ask me, and certainly a fair question for Zacharias to have asked.
But I don’t know, I was irritated by it I guess. Here’s this old guy, and his wife Elizabeth is getting up in years, and they’ve been trying to conceive, and here I am saying, “Hey, guess what?! You’re going to have a baby!” And not just any baby. One that “shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”
I even told him what to name the kid, John, so he and his wife didn’t have to argue about it. I know how difficult that can be for parents. They’ve got entire books about it these days. Plus, I even mapped out the kid’s future. They didn’t have to worry about John getting mixed up in alcohol, for starters, as he wouldn’t have a taste for the drink. And then he was going on to great things. “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God,” I told Zach. “He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This is good stuff. Imagine if I showed up, told you that you were going to have a kid, told you he wasn’t going to be a screw-up, AND, he was gonna change the world and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
What would you say? “OK” is what you would say, and that’s what Zach should have said. Instead, he said “Whereby shall I know this, blah, blah, blah.” Whereby? What does that even mean? How about whereby the Angel Gabriel is appearing before you telling you this? That should have been enough. And so I struck him deaf and mute until the baby was born.I just didn’t want to hear him speak for awhile. I was annoyed. Who knows, maybe Elizabeth was thankful. What wife wouldn’t want her husband to be quiet for awhile?
Elizabeth did pray to me, by the way, but that’s between us.
Anyway, I do regret it. But the truth is that I was stressed. I knew that six months later I was going to have to tell someone else they were having a baby, and this time was going to be a little trickier. Telling an old guy he was going to become a father should have been easy. I even told Zach that “thou shall have joy and gladness.” But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I had to next tell a young virgin that she was pregnant, and this time, not with the child that will eventually prepare the way for the Lord, but the actual Lord. Where do you begin with that?
I planned a similar tact, starting off with the standard “fear not” salutation, but as soon as I appeared before the young woman, I was more in awe of her then she of me. It struck me immediately that at that very moment, she was the most Blessed Mother; the Mother of God. “Hail,” I said, “thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
I could see she was troubled by this, which I imagine was a bit much, so I quickly got my wits about me and remembered the “fear not” thing. “Fear not, Mary,” I told here, “for thou hast found favour with God.”
I then went on to tell her what was going on. “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.” Again, I gave her the baby’s name, like I did Zach, but in this case, he really couldn’t have any other name. And then I gave her Jesus’ future. “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Now, critics like to point out here that Mary, like Zacharias, also asked me a question. “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” she asked. Why didn’t I get irritated with her like I did Zach? Well, for one, did I mention that she was, at that very moment, the Mother of God? Even if I wasn’t completely enthralled and in awe of her at the moment, I knew better than to disrespect the Mother of God. She could have asked me questions all night and it wouldn’t have bothered me.
“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
I also took this opportunity to tell Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was six-months pregnant. Did I mention that Elizabeth is Mary’s cousin?
I then followed it up with one of my favorite lines: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I love that line. St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville likes it so much it uses it as a tagline. I should have gone into advertising.
Mary’s response to the news always gives me pause. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Had I had my wits about me I would have replied, “No, be it unto me according to thy word.”
There’s one more part of this story that doesn’t get talked about much, for which I don’t get much credit. But that’s OK. I was there and played a part, but most of the work was done before I got there.
I mentioned that Mary was a virgin, but you may also know that she was engaged to a man named Joseph. Now imagine you’re him, and you find out your fiance, whom you believe is a virgin, is pregnant. I’ve always wondered why I wasn’t deployed immediately to Joseph after I appeared to Mary, to avoid any confusion, but I was told to wait. I think God wanted to see how this might play out, to discover what kind of guy Joseph was, and what kind of husband and father he might be. So he let Joseph think about it awhile and go through a classic discernment period. As Matthew points out in his telling of the story, “Because Joseph was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” It’s apparent to God, and to me, that Joseph is a stand-up guy who clearly loves Mary, who has been put in an extraordinary situation.” He decides to take the high road. It’s important to remember that Joseph was also a widow, and now he believes the woman he loves and plans to marry has betrayed him. He was certainly heartbroken and defeated when he made that decision.
That’s the moment I showed up in his dream. I got right into it, as time was of the essence. “Joseph son of David,” I told him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Notice how I pretty much followed the same formula I did with Zacharias and Mary, but in abridged form. I got the “fear not” thing in, the delivery of the news, and the future plans. I only did it in a dream to avoid the questions. There was no time for that. But really, I don’t think he would have had any. Like I said, he had already done the heavy lifting.
Joseph woke up, married Mary, and classy guy that is, waited to consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born. And man, think about what those two had to deal with until then. The travel. The stable. The birth. Not to mention what happens after Jesus is born and they have to hit the road again. Incredible couple.
And so that’s the story. By this point, I hope you cut me some slack and understand why I maybe wasn’t as kind to Zacharias as I should have been. It was a hectic season. And he got his voice and hearing back nine months later anyway, just in time to his baby John’s joyous first cries. Still, no excuse on my part. I should have slowed down and taken a breath. Think about that when you get stressed and irritated and annoyed this season. We’re all just doing our best and trying to figure out what’s going on.
Love to you all. Merry Christmas.