Stroll around any card or gift shop and you’ll see “angels.” They are chubby little fellows with a bow and arrow, or perhaps kindly looking adults with soft wings and beaming faces. They might be holding a book or a scroll or standing with hands open in a nonthreatening posture.
Representations of angels in popular culture fall far short of the reality. When angels appeared to people in Scripture, they invariably provoked fear and trembling. That’s why they often say, “Do not be afraid,” as Gabriel did to Mary (v. 30). Angels are certainly extraordinary, which has led some to wrongly worship them (see Col. 2:18). Yet, like us, they are servants of God and take an eager interest in God’s redemptive plans (1 Cor. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:12). Also like us, they apparently have an ability to choose, since some, like Satan, chose wrongly (Jude 1:6).
Gabriel, whose name means “God is my hero” or “God is my strength,” is one of only two angels named in Scripture (see Dan. 8:16; 9:21). A major character in the Christmas story, he appeared to Zechariah and Mary with birth announcements. Today’s reading includes what is surely the most important such announcement in all of history: the virgin Mary would bear a son, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit. He would be both divine—“Son of the Most High”—and human—the Messiah, sitting on the throne of King David (vv. 32–33).
Gabriel served as God’s messenger—and so can we! He brought God’s words to the unlikeliest of persons in the unlikeliest of places—and so can we! Jesus commissioned us to take the gospel to all nations, making disciples, baptizing, and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).