Posts tagged ‘Gabriel’

Christmas: Grace Upon Grace

Credit: Burkay Canatar / Pexels.com

For a moment, put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. You come from an impoverished family and have endured a hardscrabble life. But now, finally, things are looking up. You are engaged to a good girl named Mary, and the two of you are on your way to a wedding. But then, she turns up pregnant. And you know the baby is not yours. What would you do?

2,000 years ago, in Israel and as a Jew, Joseph had only two options.

First, according to the law of Moses, he could have called for her life:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Second, as the son who Mary eventually bears notes, he could have divorced her:

I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Divorce displeases Jesus, but He permits it when sexual unfaithfulness is involved.

Death and divorce – these are Joseph’s options. Which will he choose? Matthew tells us:

He had in mind to divorce her. (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph chooses divorce over death. But there’s more to Joseph’s decision than just one option over the other. Matthew adds a very important qualifier to Joseph’s divorce decision:

He had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)

In the first century, divorces were often public spectacles, meant to shame an unfaithful spouse. But Joseph forfeits his opportunity to shame his fiancé, as Matthew makes explicit in the rest of this verse:

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. (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph was walking a tightrope. As a pious Jew, devoted to following the law of Moses, he knew he couldn’t just continue on as if nothing had happened. But Joseph also knew that grimly responding to his fiancé’s perceived infidelity with all that he could do according to the law wasn’t what he should do, for shaming her would destroy her. Something else was needed.

Grace.

Joseph followed the letter of the law by planning to divorce Mary, but he also did everything he could not to retaliate against her even though he thought she had betrayed him. He responded to her apparent unfaithfulness with every bit of kindness he could muster. Joseph did the right thing according to the law and the loving thing according to grace.

Joseph’s path can be instructive for us as we face messy moral challenges in our lives. Respecting divine law is necessary and right. But we are also invited to seek opportunities to layer divine grace on top of divine law.

We can discipline our children and still remind them how much we love them.

We can reprimand an employee and still do everything we can to help them succeed.

We can adamantly disagree with someone while still treating them gently.

When Joseph layered grace on top of law, something incredible happened:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, 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.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

When Joseph chose grace, an angel appeared to show him where even more grace could be found. He did not need to divorce Mary, for, contrary to appearances, she had not been unfaithful. Instead, she was being a radically faithful servant to the Lord who had miraculously gestated in her the Savior of the world (cf. Luke 1:38).

In John’s account of the Christmas story, he describes Jesus’ mission like this:

From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. (John 1:16)

“Grace upon grace.” Grace that begets even more grace. Pile it high. Spread it wide. Do what Joseph did for Mary. And trust in what Jesus has done for us.

This is the miracle and the message of Christmas.

December 20, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Celebrating Christmas Slowly

File:The Angel Appearing to Zacharias MET DP164838.jpg
Credit: “The Angel Appearing to Zacharias” by William Blake (1800) / Wikimedia

When the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in Luke 1 while he is performing his ritual duties at the incense altar in the Holy Place at the temple in Jerusalem to announce that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will prepare the way for Jesus, it signals a remarkable turning point in the history of the nation of Israel. The Old Testament ends with a dangling prophecy:

See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:5-6)

This prophetic word is both retrospective and prospective. It is retrospective because it hearkens back to Israel’s greatest prophet, Elijah, who lived over 400 years before this prophecy was proffered. It is prospective because it looks forward to another and greater Elijah who will create a new family out of the remnants of a nation that has been scattered and battered by years of exile and conquest.

And then ­­–

Gabriel shows up and announces:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John … And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13, 17)

This fulfillment had been a long time coming. Again, over 400 years had elapsed between the time Malachi had forecasted the coming of a new Elijah and Gabriel had announced the arrival of this new Elijah. Indeed, the last time Gabriel had shown up to anyone was over 500 years earlier to another prophet named Daniel:

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill – while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. (Daniel 9:20-21)

It is interesting to note that Gabriel appears to both men while they are making sacrifices. The angel seems to like to show up in the midst of worship.

The apostle Paul writes of Jesus’ birth:

When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5)

It turns out that sometimes, God’s “set time” takes a long time to get here – hundreds of years, in fact. And this is one of the many things that Christmas can teach us. In a season that is known for its hustle and bustle, Christmas is best celebrated slowly and patiently – waiting for God to work in His way in His time. In a culture that prides itself on social media platforms like Instagram, cooking gadgets like Instant Pots, movie franchises that are Fast and Furious, and even Covid tests that are rapid, slowness does not find pride of place in our imaginations or priorities. And yet, it was a promise slowly but faithfully kept that changed the world – and is still changing eternities.

The name Zechariah means, “The Lord remembers.” By the time Gabriel appeared to this old priest to announce that he and his wife would have a son, it must have felt like they had been forgotten. But they had not been. God was just working slowly and patiently. May our character reflect God’s work this season – and each day.

December 13, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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