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Characters of Advent - Gabriel

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Greek word angelos means messenger and so angels are those creatures who announce God's word to His people. The Scriptures name three of these messengers of the Lord - Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. The first two are first mentioned by the prophet Daniel who sees apocalyptic visions of the end of the world. Gabriel, whose name means 'Strength of God', appears to a terrified Daniel and says: "understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end". He foretells the coming of a king "whose power shall be great" and who will persecute God's people.

The Annunciation (Comper)It is noteworthy that Gabriel is the messenger who explains the end times, for he appears again in Luke's gospel. The 'time of the end', of which Gabriel speaks, comes to pass when the Word becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. For, as St Paul says, "when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Galatians 4:4). And Hebrews says that "in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son" (Hebrews 1:2). Thus, at the end of time itself, God sends his messenger Gabriel to announce his word once more to His people, who are represented not by Daniel, a son of man, but by the Virgin Mary, whom the Church's liturgy (citing the book of Judith) calls "the highest honour of our race". And Gabriel announces the Word Himself, for once the Virgin gives her 'yes' to God's message from Gabriel, she conceives the Word Incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the word that was spoken to her by Gabriel is truly fruitful and preeminently finds a home within her as the Word.

The One who is to be born of Mary is called "Son of the Most High" and he will be "great" and "of his kingdom there will be no end". So, Gabriel who had once prophesied the coming of a great king who would oppress God's people now comes to announce the advent of a great king, the Son of God Himself, who would liberate God's people and establish them in holiness, freed from the oppression of sin and death. Hence, the end times have come for God Himself has become man and dwells with His people. As such, there is no longer any need for further prophets and angels, for the Word of God Himself has spoken to us, and He continues to speak, communicating the very life of God to us in the sacraments of His Body, the Church, which is animated by His Holy Spirit. Furthermore, by his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death over humankind. So, the Catechism says: "since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at 'the last hour'". And in this last hour, the Church waits with "joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ", and she prays in her liturgy and especially in Advent that He will come in glory and so bring to perfection what began with His Incarnation, announced by Gabriel's word to the Virgin Mary.

Lawrence Lew OP


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