Posted: 12/21/19 at 8:00am. Column by Ed Jordan.
Have you ever seen a real angel? I can imagine that it would be an awesome encounter that you would never forget.
Over my lifetime I have experienced the intervention of angels in my life, especially in travels over the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains. I am also convinced that God used an angel to preserve my life in a motorcycle accident when I was young.
So I know that there are angels and that they serve God in taking care of us. I just have never knowingly seen one physically.
The word angel means “messenger,” and in the biblical accounts of the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus, we find angels actively involved. In Luke 1:8-20 we see an encounter between Zacharias and the angel Gabriel. Gabriel tells Zacharias not to be afraid, and informs him that his prayer has been heard and that his wife Elizabeth, who was beyond the age of childbirth and barren, would give birth to a son, whom they were to name “John.” This was John the Baptist.
Six months later, Gabriel is sent to speak with Mary, who lived in the village of Nazareth in Galilee. Mary was a virgin who was engaged to be married to Joseph. During this encounter, recorded in Luke 1:28 (CSB), we read: And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” Mary wondered about what this meant then Gabriel, knowing what she was feeling, spoke to her saying (cf. Luke 1:30-33 (CSB): “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”
In this encounter at Nazareth, between the angel Gabriel and Mary, there are two things repeated twice. One is that Mary was a virgin, yet she was going to miraculously conceive, without participation from a human. Instead the Holy Spirit would miraculously cause her to conceive. The second thing repeated twice is Gabriel’s message to Mary that she had been favored (literally “graced”) by God. She was chosen to be Jesus’ mother because of God’s favor and grace.
In Gabriel’s initial greeting, Gabriel calls Mary “favored woman.” What an amazing greeting! Favored is a perfect, passive verb. It is a done deal, so the perfect tense of the verb indicates. The action is done by God, giving her the gift favor through his grace. It is a gift.
Here is the heart of Christmas. God comes to frail humanity and extends the gift of grace to us. As we receive his grace, we become people who are graced to become in favor with God.
When Mary received the grace of God, she became favored of God, and the Lord was with her (cf. 1:28). Receiving God’s gift of Jesus brings God’s presence into our lives, which then brings us into the family of God. Jesus was sent that first Christmas to be God with us, to live the life we could not live, and to die a sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus’ shed blood brings us the forgiveness of sins, and restores our disrupted personal relationship with God. Jesus’ resurrection proves that we are forgiven, that death is defeated, and that we who believe are now members of God’s kingdom, which has no end.
Have you received the gift of God? Jesus came to us that first Christmas as the ultimate embodiment of God’s grace. The gift is given, but it is not yours until you open your heart and hands, receive God’s gift of Jesus, and allow Jesus to be born in your heart. Then you too will be greeted as one of God’s “favored,’ or “graced,” ones. Once we open our lives to God and Jesus, the Lord is with us—each day in every situation we face.
Why not open up your heart and life this Christmas season to receive the gracious gift of God and to receive eternal life in his eternal kingdom which has no end? Pray, asking Jesus to come into your heart today.