Today the whole Christian Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation. This day we commemorate the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce or proclaim Her conception of our Lord Jesus Christ. While Mary had not expected this message to be given to her, she did expect the news to come eventually. God promised our first parents Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a son who would crush the Serpent’s head, free mankind from sin and death, and be God’s greatest blessing for all nations. Mary looked forward to and received this Word from the angel willingly. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Gabriel and all these supernatural beings announce the Word of the Lord. That’s what an angel does. The angels of the Old Testament Scriptures did not usually come speaking messages of grace, mercy, peace, and love. The cherubim, with their flaming swords, barred the way to the tree of life. The angel brought death to the firstborn sons and cattle of Egypt at the Passover. The angel wrestled with Jacob all night, injuring him. Angels destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The Angel of the Lord led the conquest of Canaan. These angels instilled fear and terror as they spoke and enacted God’s Word of judgment against unbelief.
Yet, every visit of an angel to the saints of the New Testament includes these words, “Do not be afraid!” (Luke 1:30) These angels are messengers of and, for the Gospel, the good news. They announce the conception of Jesus’ forerunner, his cousin John the Baptist. They announce Jesus’ incarnation and birth. They warn Joseph to flee to Egypt from Herod’s wrath against Jesus. They send the Holy Family back when the murderous tyrant has died, guiding them to Nazareth of Galilee. The angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation by the Devil in the wilderness. An angel strengthened Christ for the work of His suffering and death. The angels announced to the women Jesus’ resurrection. The angels continued to aid the Apostles in their ministry in the earliest days of the Church. And John’s apocalyptic vision is given and accompanied by angels.
Like Mary, we receive many words sent to us by messengers of all sorts. We have angels that come with God’s command and others that speak of their own authority. We have political messengers telling us how we ought to govern ourselves or how they will govern us. We have medical ambassadors who tell us what is best for our bodies or what they will do to our bodies. We have friends and family who tell us how they love us or demand from us love. Just like the angels of the Scriptures, our messengers come with announcements that either give gifts of hope and love or demand obedience and fear.
In this age of information, the messages are often conflicting. There are so many messages that you’re often confused. What is true, what is deceiving, and what is misleading? How can you possibly know? If only you had an angel from God, a holy messenger, to come and tell you what is really real. But you have angels sent by God to speak the Word of Jesus authoritatively. These are the called and ordained pastors of the Church.
How can you know they are who they say they are? Do you look for a bright shining face like Moses on Sinai? Do you look for flaming swords, or if these men have sprouted wings like the seraphim? Must they speak in with the tongue of angels? The evaluation is simple but not easy. These men do not speak out of their strength, character, or imagination. These men speak what they have been given to say by the Word Incarnate himself, Jesus. When these angelic messengers speak according to the Scriptures, you hear the very voice of Jesus.
The pastors of the Church announce only the message given to them by Jesus. Yes, they speak God’s Law to show you your rebellion against God and the consequence of your unbelief. But they cannot and must not ever leave you there. As your conscience is burdened under the weight of the accusation, they always must proclaim Jesus Christ crucified. Only by Christ’s suffering and death is your conscience cleared and the burden of sin lifted. The message you should expect and demand to hear week in and week out is, “In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven!” And thus, your pastor is your angel who speaks the word of forgiveness. Amid this chaotic world of mixed messages from the false messengers, Jesus sends you his pastor to say to you “Fear not! Do not be afraid!”
Originally published in the Sounder on March, 25, 2021.