This is the mood and message of the third Sunday of Advent. This moment of joy within the dreary weeks of waiting is like the first kick of the infant in the womb. Hah! There is life there after all!
The Scripture readings take us closer to the brilliant reality of Christ’s presence among us. Angels galore!
Gabriel comes to Mary with an invitation which Mary accepts as a gentle command.
Gabriel comes to Joseph to let him in on the secret and to detail his role as protector of the Holy One and His Mother.
A whole legion of angels cover the freezing shepherds with triumphant sounds to guide them to the unlikely birthplace of the King and Messiah.
Both Old and New Testaments tell of Angels who act in a way similar to the prophets’: they deliver messages from God as to miraculous events or appearances.
Why don’t we hear from Angels anymore? Why are they silent?
Psalm 8 tells us that we’ve been made “a little less than the Angels.” The Letter to the Hebrews repeats this, saying that now, after years of silence, Someone infinitely higher than the Angels has been given to us. This is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
Yet this great Person made such a silent entrance into our world as the child of ordinary parents, residing in a small town famous for absolutely nothing. It’s as if the Christmas story needed to be announced once and for all amid spectacular angelic fireworks, for the Savior’s life in the world would be hidden and without any of the trappings of royalty or power.
Once out in the world as an adult with a mission, Jesus continued to insist on silence: Tell no one of this miracle, or Tell the vision to no one, etc. Why the secrecy?
I have a theory. Jesus planned his mission as a continuation through his followers, ordinary men and women, and not through Angels. Those who believed in the validity of Christ’s teachings would be the ones to teach the treasures of the Gospel — not necessarily with words but by their deeds. Jesus’ message had to be accessible to both teachers and the taught. Christ’s presence and example needed to be lowly, thus maintaining a truer imitation of his actions and his gentle (but firm) commands.
St. Angela of Foligno, fourteenth century mystic, writes:
See how Christ gave Himself as an example. He said: “Learn from me. I am gentle. My soul is humble. You’ll find rest for your hearts here.” Pay attention to what Christ didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Learn to fast from Me” or “Learn from me how to perform great miracles,” although He did these things well. . .
The point is that Christ made humility and gentleness the foundation for every other virtue. Nothing else matters. Not integrity, not fasting, not poverty, not shabby clothing, not years of good works, not the accomplishment of miracles — none of these is important without a humble heart.
The splendidly orchestrated Christmas messages of the Angels were possibly their last hurrah. Without Christ, we might have thought that holiness required great deeds, the mastery of complicated theological dogmas, perhaps even martyrdom. Surely miracles.
Jesus’ miracles were born of his compassion, not to have people marvel at quasi-magical powers. He had already learned that from his desert temptation.
No, now is the time for quiet. No more brilliance. No more forcing. No more threats of separation. No more need for virtually impossible deeds that only superhuman angels could perform.
Now is humanity’s time, the time for gently whispered invitations, and for our quiet, humble and joy-filled responses.