The Common Good

My Advent Calendar: December 19

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I missed yesterday's Advent reflection. Although I woke up early to write, I discovered that a winter cold was coming on, I rushed to help my daughter get ready for school, and I had to get to a meeting. In other words, a pretty typical day in Advent -- one that reminded me how hard it is to move beyond the mundane to prepare for the birth of Jesus.

This morning, I opened both windows 18 and 19. And they both revealed the same thing: angels.

Angels almost always appear on Advent calendars. As part of the traditional depiction of the nativity, the gospel writers included them in Jesus' birth narratives as heralds of God's good news of the Messiah.

The word "angel" means messenger. They are supernatural beings that have a role in most of the world's major religions-making them distinctly ecumenical and interfaith creatures. Hebrew scripture narrates many angel stories. The Christian gospels place angels at the outset of both Jesus' life and ministry. In Islam, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism, and various mystical faiths, angels announce the intrusion of the divine into earthly life. They proclaim God's intentions to human beings and often act in God's stead. In various scriptures, an angel in the story is a way of the writer saying, "Hey, pay attention! God is at work here!" According to The Washington Times, half of all Americans say they believe in angels.

But what of the other half? Does all the talk of angel choruses and supernatural heralds at Christmastide make Jesus seem more a character from a fairy tale than a human being who was like us and lived with us? What messengers do we hear today that announce the birth of the Prince of Peace in the world?

I confess: I believe an angelic messenger once appeared to me. But I equally confess that this was a rare and unexpected thing. I typically don't see supernatural beings floating around in the sky bearing banners that read "Gloria" and singing "Hark." Instead, I've learned to pay attention to the other messengers God sends my way: the words of my family and friends, the nudges of my soul, the work of peace and justice in the world. For me, the greatest angels I experience are the human beings who populate my everyday world, those who bear the message of Immanuel, "God with us," in all that we do.

Diana Butler BassDiana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) wanted to open her Advent calendar in community this year, and she is sharing her daily reflections with Sojourners readers online. She is the author of the forthcoming A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (March 2009).

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