This week’s devotional guide is simple – only one short article. This is in preparation for the Christmas Eve homily about Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.
After the Angel Leaves
So how do we keep on keeping on after the angel leaves?
by Phil Ware
In The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), Mary is visited by an angel named Gabriel and she is told that she we will “conceive and give birth to a son” and she is to give him the name, “Jesus.” This child, this Jesus, will not just be any child, but will be “the Son of the Most High.” He will reign “on the throne of his father David” and “over Jacob’s descendants forever” for “his kingdom will never end.”
Mary is astonished because there is one “little” problem: she is a virgin, from Galilee, pledged in marriage to a man named Joseph. Things like this — angels, Messiah-sons, and kingly royalty — don’t happen to people like her, a poor girl from nowhere Nazareth betrothed to a lowly carpenter!
Gabriel explains that this will be the work of the Holy Spirit and that Mary’s little boy will actually be the Son of God! By some miracle of faith and surrender to the will of God, Mary believes and accepts God’s plan: “I am the Lord’s servant … May your word to me be fulfilled.”
This amazing intersection of heaven’s glory and humble humanity ends with these five simple words: “Then the angel left her.”
Mary’s life will never be the same. Mary can anticipate some of the scandal, difficulty, and shame that her surrender to the way of God will bring her. But “life after the angel leaves” will bring Mary challenges that she cannot foresee, pain she can barely endure, and joy that is unequalled in human history. This is always the way things are in “life after the angel leaves”!
You’ve been there, haven’t you? Sure, not on the scale of Mary, but you’ve had your taste of life before and “after the angel leaves”?
Life is fresh, new, and exciting as the journey begins on a new adventure — an adventure you feel called to follow if you are to honor God. It’s the thrill of beginning and the excitement of something new, something fresh, something even a bit dangerous. But then the new wears off, the shine is gone, the new-car smell is replaced with dents, stains, and some foul odor you can’t quite pinpoint. This “life after the angel leaves”!
The angel appears several more times in Mary’s story. The angel appears again because Mary has to explain the inexplicable and to assure Joseph that God can do the impossible even in the womb of his virgin wife-of-betrothal* (Matthew 1:18-25). Another time many angels appear to shepherds to announce the birth of her son (Luke 2:1-21). The angel shows up once again to help protect Mary’s child, Jesus (Matthew 2:13-18). An angel even comes and ministers to Mary’s son when Jesus is facing the anguish of the upcoming cross (Luke 22:44).
Yet in each of these appearances of angels, we are never told that Mary saw the angel again — he was there along with other angels working to fulfill God’s promise, he just was not visible to Mary.
So there is a ring of finality in the words, “Then the angel left her.” Like us, Mary would treasure the memory of that great beginning, that holy moment, but life would move from that spot and unfold with hope and horror, tenderness and trauma, as well as goodness and grief.
Mary may not have always understood what Jesus was doing or why God’s will would ultimately lead to a cross, but she would hold on to her original words with faithfulness, “I am the Lord’s servant … May your word to me be fulfilled.” And she serves as an example to all of us who find the going tough when the bloom is off the rose and the luster has lost its shine on those first, exciting, joyous, commitments to Jesus.
Like Mary, we live most of our lives “after the angel leaves.” What we do in those challenging moments, confusing dilemmas, long nights of the soul, and dark passages of unspeakable grief will determine whether Jesus lives in our hearts as the crucified-yet-resurrected Savior, or if he becomes a confusing disappointment and we give up our commitment to follow out of disinterest, frustration, or disappointment. So I’m encouraging us — you and me — to hang on during those times just like Mary did.
Faith, real faith like Mary shows us, is not for sissies. It is not for those looking for a guarantee of riches or quick escape from the pain and challenges of this life. The Lord’s blessing can sometimes feel like a burden, but when we hold on to that first commitment to be the Lord’s servant, the dawning day of resurrection and grace will come. We will share in Jesus’ victory and walk with him in joyous fellowship, and realize that the angel was right when he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Such joy is ours in life, even “after the angel leaves.”