Do not be afraid: The news is good! This evening, I would like to talk about the one figure in Luke’s account of the Nativity of our Lord that is most easily glossed over. The angel Gabriel. We focus on Mary and Joseph; we focus on Zecharias and Elizabeth; we focus on the shepherds; but no one tends to pay all that much attention to Gabriel. He’s just the messenger after all. What matters is the message, not the messenger. Right? Well yes, but one must remember, the messenger shapes the message. Imagine – if you will – that someone came to your door and told you that you just won one million dollars. Now if that person was just some young kid you had never seen, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and driving a beat up car, just how seriously would you take him? Would you believe what he had just told you? Probably not. But what if it was the late Ed McMahon standing at your door, bringing this news? Well aside from the fact that Ed McMahon passed away 3 years ago, how would you receive his news? After all, Ed McMahon had for years gone to peoples houses and told them that they had won millions of dollars from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. He was well known for this. So if Ed McMahon came to your door, you would take him seriously. Well, if Gabriel appeared to you, I guarantee you would take Him seriously.
We first read of Gabriel in chapter 8 of the book of Daniel. We learn in the book of Daniel that Gabriel – this angel that is described as one having the appearance of a man – was a messenger sent by God to share God’s word of judgment. Gabriel was a messenger that instilled fear. So much so that in order to get Daniel to listen, Gabriel had to calm him; he had to assure him. And so Gabriel said “Do not be afraid.” Now we don’t read about Gabriel again until we read about him in Luke’s Gospel. But there is more we need to understand about Gabriel; things that would have been understood by those for whom this Gospel message was first written. Gabriel’s name means the messenger of the power of God. In Jewish lore, Gabriel was understood to be God’s messenger of judgment; the one who stood before the throne of God and delivered the message of God’s wrath to this world. They attributed the destruction of Sodom and the destruction of Sennacherib’s host to Gabriel. They understood Gabriel to be the one who buried Moses, fulfilling God’s judgment upon him for his disobedience. Gabriel was a messenger to be feared. Gabriel was literally God’s bad news messenger. Just as Ed McMahon at your door would make you jump and scream for joy at your good fortune, so Gabriel standing before you would make you fall on your face in terror at God’s coming judgment. He is the messenger of God’s power. And this is the messenger God sends first to Zecharias to whom he says, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” God then sends the messenger of His power to Mary to whom he says, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” And finally, after the baby had been born, God sent the messenger of His power to the shepherds to whom he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Gabriel appears to have changed. Just as the messenger shapes the message, so the message shapes our understanding of the messenger. God’s messenger of judgment has become Him messenger of salvation. God’s messenger of law has become His messenger of grace. God’s bad news messenger has become God’s good news messenger. He has literally become God’s evangelist. Did you know that Gabriel was the first Christian evangelist. He brought the good news to Zecharias. He brought the good news to Mary. He brought the good news to the shepherds. Gabriel was God’s evangelist!
But Gabriel has not changed. He remains the messenger of God’s power. He remain the messenger of God’s judgment. For in proclaiming the coming of this child born this night in the city of David – the Savior who is Christ the Lord – Gabriel is bringing the message of both God’s power and judgment. For in His power, God Himself was incarnate from the virgin Mary; God Himself made into the form of a servant; God Himself suffered and died, bearing the judgment that was our bear. God took upon Himself, His judgment for our sin, and in His power, He conquered the power of sin and death. So Gabriel remains the messenger of God’s power and judgment, and by God’s grace through the faith He gives us freely, this messenger of God’s power and judgment becomes God’s messenger of salvation. And this message changes us as well. We who have feared God’s power; who have feared God’s judgment, can now here His message anew. But do not be afraid: the news is good!