The theme for our series of talks at Breathing Space this Advent is “God is here”, the message which underlies every other message angels bring. They represent God to humankind. They are a reminder of his presence. Last week we thought about what it might mean to remember that God is here in this place. This week we are going to think about the God who is here in this time, in this moment, now.
Our two readings both told the story of people who had visits from angels; unexpected, mysterious visits. In some ways they are very similar stories. Both Abraham and Zechariah were old men at the time these stories happened, and their wives, Sarah and Elizabeth, were childless. At the age of seventy Abraham had been promised descendants more in number than the sand or stars in the sky, that God would make a great nation out of him. It seemed too late even then, but the decades passed and Sarah didn’t conceive. He fathered a child by her slave Hagar – we’ll hear more of her next week – but that had ended up creating bitter rivalry and making Sarah feel even worse than she already did. Now Abraham was nearly a hundred years old, according to the Bible – perhaps an exaggeration, but we get the point. He, and Sarah, were really way too old to embark on parenthood together, by any logical reckoning. But God had other ideas, and nine months after the visit we heard about in our reading, Isaac was born. His name meant laughter, perhaps because the whole situation seemed so ridiculous, perhaps because it meant that Sarah and Abraham – and God – had had the last laugh in the end. The tribe of Abraham eventually became the whole Jewish nation and through them, indeed the earth has been blessed.
And then there is Zechariah and Elizabeth, people who were, again, too old to have children, but found themselves becoming parents anyway. They had long given up hope – there had been no divine promises to them as there had been to Abraham – but God, in God’s time, gave them what they longed for, a son, who was to grow up to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.
Abraham and Zechariah were astonished, amazed, rendered speechless in Zechariah’s case, when God turned up in their lives. Neither of them were expecting anything special that day. Abraham was sitting under a tree in the shade. Zechariah was doing his duty in the Temple, offering incense at the time of prayer. And yet, at that moment, in that “now”, God came to them.
Human beings have no choice but to live in time, one moment after another, but we rarely find it easy to live in the “now”. We either hanker for the past, or wish our lives away hoping for something better in the future. It is hard for us to believe that this moment, the moment we are in, has its own purpose, its own blessing, that God might come to us in it.
We may feel, like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, that we are too old for God to do anything meaningful with us, that we have missed the boat. We may feel too young to be much use. We may feel that we are just in too much of a mess right now for God to turn up in our lives, that we’re not ready for him, or, conversely, that we are getting along fine on our own at the moment, thanks, and don’t need him. But these stories remind us that God comes to us when God comes to us, in his time, with his purpose, that every moment can be blessed, every day can be holy, that the angels of God can appear when we expect them least, if we open our eyes to their presence.
In the silence today, let’s think back over the day that has gone, then, and look for the angels’ footprints in it, the moments when God showed up, with his message of love and life, and ask for his grace to recognise the holiness of “now”.