By Father Michael Panicali
ST. GABRIEL, the Archangel, delivers a message in today’s Gospel that alters the course of salvation history.
It is perhaps the greatest message that can ever be delivered – that God is making due on His long promise of bringing a Savior into the world. Rather spectacularly, this message bears the hope of eternal life for men and women of all nations.
Consider the Messenger
Because of the depth and gravity of the message, it is worth a serious look at the messenger, who St. Luke tells us was directly sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. St. Gabriel’s name in Hebrew means “man of God,” or “God has shown Himself mighty.”
He first appears in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament, when Gabriel delivers a message from God about impending persecution to be followed by restoration and justice.
Daniel 9:20-24 reads, “I was still praying to the Lord, my God, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, presenting my petition concerning the holy mountain of my God – I was still praying, when the man, Gabriel, whom I had seen in vision before, came to me in flight at the time of the evening offering. He instructed me in these words: ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding. When you began your petition, an answer was given which I have come to announce, because you are beloved.’”
It is in the New Testament that Gabriel is more popularly known: He is the angel who appears to Zechariah announcing the birth of John the Baptist, and appears to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World.
Gabriel reassures Mary that, like with her cousin Elizabeth conceiving in her old age, Mary would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, “for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Because Gabriel serves so prominently as God’s messenger in Scripture, the archangel is invoked today as the patron saint of communication workers.
Much is made of the spoken word in Advent: The words of Gabriel change the course of history, while John is the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Zechariah loses his ability to speak after his encounter with Gabriel because of his disbelief, while Mary heaps humble praise upon God – and takes attention off herself – in her beautiful Magnificat in receiving the announcement from Gabriel.
Words are very meaningful and powerful indeed. In Advent, they are put to use in beautifully preparing the world for The Word itself. If this Fourth Sunday of Advent makes anything clear, it is this: Always use your words to uplift God, and to uplift your brother and sister.
Like Gabriel, John and Mary, allow your words to point to Christ and the goodness of God. This is why God gave us words to begin with. Choose yours well.
Editor’s note: The Sunday’s Scriptures column for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Dec. 31, will be available at thetablet.org.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalm 89: 2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Romans 16: 25-27
Luke 1: 26-38
Father Panicali, parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 3, 2017.