December 6, 2022 (The third day of the second week of Advent 2022)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“While I, Daniel, sought the meaning of the vision I had seen, one who looked like a man stood before me, and on the Ulai I heard a human voice that cried out, ‘Gabriel, explain the vision to this man.’ When he came near where I was standing, I fell prostrate in terror. But he said to me, ‘Understand, O son of man, that the vision refers to the end time.’” (Daniel 8.15-16)
The God who dwells within us makes us His people!
The God who dwells within us reveals Himself in Word and Action!
Many people, upon hearing the name Daniel from scripture, tend to think first of the story of Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego which is told in the Book of Prophecy titled Daniel. It is a story of great faith on the part of these three Jewish men who refused, as had Daniel, to bow down to the King of Babylon and his great idol. Without fear of losing their lives due to disobedience when they would stand before God, they faithfully and fearlessly believed that God would not turn them over to “the place of fire.” In steadfastness to their belief in God [putting their faith in action as we reflected upon yesterday], they not only were delivered but furthered the cause of humbling the King and bringing hope to those who were in captivity in that distant land. We, too, are often confronted with trials and tribulations [perhaps not with being literally thrown into the fire as they were] which give us cause and pause to reflect on our desire to be truly faithful. We are challenged to consider if holding fast to the Word of God and its call in our lives to be “His mighty ones” will make a difference. The choice is to believe that it will [and pray that our unbelief will be transformed] or to succumb to the culture and climate of the day and become tepid or even cold to “walking by faith in the sight of all the world.” But, this reflection is not about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It is in great part about the angel Gabriel who appeared to Daniel twice following the incident of his friends and the fiery furnace while he served the King of Babylon. Gabriel is said to have appeared to three people in scripture: Daniel (twice), Zechariah (the father of John the Baptizer) and Mary (the mother of Jesus and blessed of God.) In so doing, the stories bearing the presence of Gabriel are thus united in the theme of faith and prophecy. The overarching theme of Immanuel for this Advent season draws us near to considering the role we play as a people of faith guided by prophecy in preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. How would our Christmas celebration be transformed if we did embrace this role in our preparation to be reminded that we are living now in the Age of the Church which could close at any moment?
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind us that the traditional application and meaning of the word “prophecy” is truth-telling. It is not, as I had mentioned before “prognostication” or “hopeful anticipation of my will be done” over and against “the truth of God’s will and its purpose to direct out thoughts and actions for the fulfillment of the good and very good which He spoke over the creation. of humanity in right.” Further, true prophecy does not speak out of time nor the context in which it was delivered. It was always germane to the people to whom it was spoken and to the situation in which they had influence. For Daniel, the appearance of Gabriel to reveal the meaning and application of the visions given to him while in Babylonian exile certainly met this expectation. The hope of Daniel was to restore and maintain the faith of the exiles that they would again return home to Jerusalem. He knew the longer they remained in Babylon by the Ulai Channel the more apt they would be to begin to surrender the ways of Judaism and faithfulness to God alone and become more like Babylonians. They would be more “of the world” than merely “in the world.” Without this hope of restoration, they would become sheep without a shepherd and a flock without a sheepfold. What then of Zechariah in the New Testament book of Luke? Dare we say that Gabriel’s words to him concerning the birth of a son in his advanced years (as well as those of his wife, Elizabeth) were meant for a greater purpose as to the hope of God’s people in domestic exile? Of course we dare say so! The good news to Zechariah was not only a fulfillment of the hope of inclusion among his priestly caste by becoming a father (and for his wife to be a mother) but that the role of his son would be as a priest like no other. John the Baptizer would be a priest whose words captured the prophecies of old and declare them with renewed faith as on the brink of fulfillment. His ministry definitely changed the culture and climate of Israel under Roman occupation and under the self-serving dominion of the Ruling Party of the Temple including the Chief High Priest himself and the King and Governor of Judea.
It goes without saying then that the appearance of Gabriel to the young girl named Mary was intended to have a same if not greater prophetic message for the nation of Israel and indeed the world Israel was called to serve. Some traditions speak to the place of Mary in the Temple. They say she had been surrendered by her parents, perhaps at birth, into the care of the temple and to serve there until she was of age or for the rest of her life. It is no coincidence that on the eighth day of Jesus’ life when Mary and Joseph took the baby, Jesus, to be consecrated by circumcision in the Temple that they were addressed by two prophets: Simeon (who was told he would see the Lord’s Messiah who would challenge and change the nation of Israel) and Anna (who had lived in the temple for nearly sixty years following the death of her husband looking forward to the day of redemption for the city of Jerusalem and the nation it represented). The power of their words to Mary in that moment stirred within her the memories of when Gabriel called her “blessed and favored” and when the shepherds adored her child whom the angels had declared was born to them that day. Reaching all the way back to the days of Daniel, the prophet in exile, these words would resound mightily in her heart. I have no doubt they were words which she shared with Jesus her son as he, too, grew in blessing and favor of His Father in Heaven. And when the Roman soldier sought to be merciful to Jesus on the cross (the same soldier who offered wine vinegar to Jesus with a sponge soaked in it and lifted to him on the tip of his sword to sate his thirst) and took that same sword to pierce the side of Jesus testing for signs of life and death instead of breaking his legs, so, too, did the prophecy of Simeon ring in Mary’s heart as she remembered “And a sword shall pierce your heart as well.” Her circle of life was coming full round; the close of an age was at hand as was the beginning of a new one.
Mighty ones of God, I would present this season of Advent as a modern day visitation from the angel Gabriel. The words of prophecy which have been uttered and fulfilled by the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary and of God, to be Messiah and Savior are approaching another season as the close of the Age of the Church nears. This celebration of worship which we enter into preparing for Christmas Day, recognizing the day of Jesus’ birth (regardless of the actual date of his birth) is a calling to see the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah “as the people dwelling in darkness who have seen a great light.” The light of revelation is presented in the Star of Bethlehem which guides those who are wise to seek Him out to the place where He is. But, I would offer that while we are called to remember and to celebrate how it began, we are actually being led to remember and make holy the very call to the close of this Age. We are not now living in a panacea of faith. In fact, it may well be because of circumstances surrounding us in the present day, we are seeing what Daniel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah feared greatly: the assimilation of God’s people into the worldly culture and climate that is so pervasive. How has the Church, the Body of Christ on Earth and the anticipated Bride of the Lamb of God who had been born in Bethlehem, so accommodated the world? Has it done so in order to survive the current age by the pretense of transforming the image of God to suit itself instead of teaching the world to be transformed by the renewal of their minds as well as their heart and soul? Simeon’s prophecy of “a sword will pierce your own heart, too” has already been fulfilled. The prophecies foretelling his birth, death and resurrection have already been fulfilled. All that remains is the return of the King to claim His Bride and establish His kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven forever. The question for us is presented today: Whom and Whose shall He find waiting for Him? Will it be Immanuel’s people? Will it be those who believe that God is so with them and so within them that they will survive the great test of fire which is to come as promised by God for the redemption and salvation of His people from the enemy of both man and God? If hell is life on earth as some would say, then we may already be in the fire. It is a word that begs us to consider what is the truth of this which our Advent proclaims.
Father, by faith You have made us and all that is which we can see and have yet to see. You have put that faith in us that it might work in us and through us to accomplish the good which You have always intended. Now You have made it possible for us to see through Jesus Christ what it is that we can do which can be called “good and very good.” Let this Immanuel live in us and through us, we pray. AMEN.