December 13, 2023

Read Luke 1:5-17.

What is it about those angels of the Lord that they strike fear in the hearts of all who see them? The angel Gabriel is often depicted with shining white robes, curly yellow hair, and a comforting smile. But just as Americans have white-washed Jesus, I suspect we’ve got Gabriel’s features all wrong, too. When he appears, reassurance is required: “Don’t be afraid!” What’s so scary about an angel? Are Gabriel’s wings massive? Is his brightness overpowering? Does he shine at all? Does he even look human?

Perhaps, as it is with God, human minds can’t entirely comprehend angels. But we know this: they are scary, and they encourage us to not fear. Zechariah and Elizabeth have waited their whole lives for children that never came, reminding us of their biblical ancestors Abraham and Sarah. Their lives have felt empty without the kids they’ve prayed for. And then, out of the blue, Gabriel shows up and changes everything, announcing they will have a son named John. The news must have been overwhelming to Zechariah. Not only will they have a baby, this John will be no ordinary kid. As Zechariah trembled with fear, I wonder: did he want to disengage? To brush aside this scary angel’s life-changing claims? To hold onto what was familiar rather than step into the unknown?

What would it feel like for you to have your prayers so soundly – and unexpectedly – heard?


Loving God, you encourage us to faith, even when we feel fear. Help us keep awake to the new things you are doing in us and through us, even when they scare us. Amen.

Rev. Linda Kurtz Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church (Lexington, KY)