On Angel Watch – It’s a Wonderful Life

(Ctr. Chancel, looking right/left) He’s ba-ack! That trumpet blowin’, trouble totin’ angel who insists he brings GOOD NEWS. It’s… GABRIEL! The One who sits at God’s left hand. The archangel to whom God speaks. And he comes to us, as surely as to Mary. So be on the lookout! What Gabriel says won’t just turn Mary’s world upside down. But ours, too. Everything Mary’s hoped for, planned for, dreamed of, is about to get an extreme make over. Be  prepared. Take this angel seriously and the same might happen to us. Embrace Mary’s response and a whole new life, a wonderful life, an eternal life will be coming our way. For what more, or better could we hope, come Christmas? Peace in our person, peace in our soul, peace in our time, even beyond time. Lean forward. Listen in. Take note(s)!

Note I. The Christmas Angel bears tidings of a world turned upside down. I mean, do you have dreams? Mary did. Wedding dreams. Are you makin’ plans? She was. Are you doin’ your best to serve God? But… are you holdin’ some stuff back? If scratched deeply, come Christmas, are you hopin’ for at least a little personal payoff in exchange for Christmas worship? I poled about 25 NB folks about this, in classes or by phone. Asked, “What do you want/need for Christmas, answers included Christ himself, peace, love, healing (others). These were out-poled 3/1 by happiness, my health, family, security, specific items. Mary may not have had a store or online site on which to “register” for her wedding, but she’d know the feeling. Enter Gabriel. ‘Not to be mistaken for any of the TV prophets of profit. ‘Or local pastors who suggest a righteous life or a heavy tithe is a ticket-to-ride, not the Polar but the Excess Express!

Mary gets a comfort first, “No fear! God’s on your side!” Whew! Her first thought was of the jealous angel who comes to slay your groom by the wedding night. (Tobit) This is not that! So far so good. Next, “Unwed, you’ll conceive a son by the Holy Spirit! He’ll be great, rule like David, but forever!” Mary’s not just a confused virgin. She knows women can be stoned (with rocks!) for this! If Mary’s to be in on this, she’ll have to be all in. Starting with Joseph,

ending at the cross. Who would choose that? Mary does, with the clear knowing that this, of all things, will be a Wonderful Life. Sorry, Jimmy Stewart and Co., at best you’re the 2nd edition of the drama. More about that shortly. For now, I just want to ask. Are you up for this kind of Christmas? Here’s a way to check. What’s your favorite Christmas hymn? Favorite line? I’m a Joy to the World guy. Who doesn’t love the line, “No more may sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground”? I love it. ‘Til I see it’s my sins goin’, not just my neighbor’s? Even: my favorites! What kind of good news is this? I wonder. Mary too. And I hope you do. There’s no joy in a savior where we don’t know we need to be saved from sin, saved by Another, not by ourselves; we are not in charge. We are not saved for a life of stuff and status, but a life of wonder we wonder about in many ways, until we die. Upside down, this word!

Take another note. #2! Mary found a very different wonder than she wanted. Us too. What a list we could name, but won’t. Nine more months engaged. That L/D room: a stable. Losing her son at 12. At 30 he’s late for a wedding. Doin’ such things she fears for him, teaching that would kill him, healing that strikes fear in hearts, his rejection when she pursues him. The Hill. That last hill. Or was it? O, if we had time…. But when the angel announces, all she says is, “All in! Let it be with me according to your word.” Impossible? Oh, no. Gabriel himself insists, “With God nothing will be impossible.” Because Mary really believed that, a Wonderful, Wonder-fill life was hers. If you want the keys to a Wonderful Life, in Mary’s way, go to the back of the line! Overacted, schmaltzy, cliché it may be, but the easiest holiday example of them all may still be It’s a Wonderful Life. Poor George. Every glory: denied him. From college to war hero, prominent provider to trusted banker. He’s Bible Job, Hannah, Jeremiah, Mary all rolled into one. “Better I’d not have lived!” he says. He even gets Clarence, not Gabriel as his angel. But he is shown that faithfulness is a wonder all its own.  He learns what they used to whisper in the Roman Emperor’s ear, parading back from conquest. “All glory is fleeting!” George quietly saves his war-hero brother, houses his town, saves a family from poison, fends off Mr. Potter, meanest man in Bedford Falls.” In the end he looks on himself and concludes, “It’s a Wonderful Life!” In simple service and trusting faith, Gabriel himself, and Mary with him invite us to be all in! I can’t promise you what you want or believe you need. But I can promise a Savior, a world upside-down, sin relieved. ‘And in an angel’s word and a maiden’s choice, a wonder-filled life, unexpected but unequaled.

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