“Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”” (Lk 1,18-20)
When I see pictures of angels they are always depicted with long, beautiful and flowing hair. I sometimes think that it would be more accurate to picture angels with disheveled and patchy hair, nearly bald from all the times that we cause our angels to pull their hair out. Angels are messengers of God and so often they have great news for us, carrying a message of God’s mercy and love, of the joy that is available to us if we follow a way of faith. We respond too often to their message with skepticism and doubt. “How shall I know this?” We are so inured with our suffering and complaining to God, the endless “Whoa is me!” that we continuously cry out to God, that we no longer can imagine joy in our lives. We have all met people who are so attached to their tragic worldview that they argue against any word of hope that we might offer. What a sin it is to argue against hope. Hope points the way for us to eternal life, light and joy. Hope takes our hand and leads us through the dark night of unbelief, suffering and trial and brings us into the light of a new day. Hope is an Advent virtue. We wait “in joyful hope” for the Coming of our savior. Abraham is an example to us of great faith and hope, “For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us…He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become “the father of many nations,”…He did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what he had promised he was able to do. That is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” But it was not for him alone that it was written that “it was credited to him”; it was also for us, to whom it will be credited, who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification.” (Rom 4,16-25) God has prepared a beautiful gift for us of eternal life and joy. We do not merit this gift and certainly we have no right to demand it of God, it is given to us in love when we least expect it. Our response should be joy and gratitude as we give glory to God for his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises to us. God’s gracious gift should not be met with skepticism, cynicism and doubt.
Today our Advent guide is Zechariah, more an anti-guide, a word of caution, that is given to us in this season of hope. Zechariah is a man of God, a priest, a righteous man in the eyes of God who lived too long in disappointment and disillusionment. Though a good man, Zechariah fails at a critical juncture in his life when God chooses to answer his life-long prayer. Perhaps as a priest, Zechariah had grown too accustomed to being in the presence of God and offering the continual sacrifices of prayer and atonement. Zechariah perhaps had become a bit jaded in his advanced years. In our gospel today, Zechariah walks into the sanctuary to offer the incense and behold, an angel of the Lord is standing at the right side of the altar, and not just any angel but Gabriel himself, sent directly from God. Gabriel brings to Zechariah good news which proclaims great joy and gladness for many people. Zechariah does not respond by opening his mouth in glorifying God and singing his praises, rather, he responds by questioning the veracity of Gabriel’s message. Really?! Zechariah, the archangel Gabriel has been sent to you directly from God and is speaking to you and you can’t find it in you to believe? Well, if you can’t say something nice then you will say nothing at all – Zechariah finds himself mute. It is not good form to argue with an angel and to aggravate him with silly questions. Oh, how we must frustrate the angels with our obtuseness and thick headed incomprehension. I can only imagine what Gabriel had to say to the other archangels that night over supper when he was describing his day’s adventures.
In our culture today we are still aggravating the angels. After more than two thousand years of the proclamation of the good news, after countless witnesses have proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ with their lives – martyrs, saints, doctors of the Church and myriads of holy men and women. After miracles upon miracles that have been well attested. After apparitions of the Blessed Mother and the Divine Mercy of our Lord. After all of these signs pointing to the presence of the Risen Christ among us and the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord we still have the hubris to express our doubts, “Um, I have a little problem with that…” Amazing! So today we go around greeting each other inanely with, “Happy holidays.” We can proclaim publicly that Santa Claus is coming to town but don’t be caught proclaiming that Jesus Christ is coming again. We should all be struck mute each time we try to say, “Happy holidays.” Every Christmas celebration and pageant that has become a “Holiday parade” or a “Holiday Special” should be blacked out. Alas, this is not culturally sensitive and so we will continue to give the angels reason to pull out their hair, and stories to tell while they shake their heads around the dinner table.
Advent calls for us to prepare in the manner of Abraham, hoping against hope, and not like Zechariah with his, “How shall I know this?” (game changing fumble) While we wait, let us not grow weary of hope and despair of joy. God is preparing a gift for us in Jesus, the Christ child. Believe! Come quickly, Lord Jesus (before the angels lose all of their hair!)