Third Sunday of Advent

Divine Messenger by Michelle L Hofer — mixed media painting on paper, 8 x 10 inches, 2020

December 11, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Isaiah 35:1-10 • Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11

View Lectionary

Image description: The Archangel Gabriel stands confidently holding a long staff in the right hand and a ball/disk in the left bearing the Chi Rho symbol for Christ. The arms are open and the feet spread apart. Gabriel is dressed in regal embroidered robes, fancy shoes and a cloak draping mostly over his left arm. The facial expression is one of seriousness. The eyes glow. A simple gold line indicates a halo around the head. Large powerful wings fan out from behind Gabriel who is positioned to the left of center in the image. The background features an abstract smear and splattering of paint in deep purple and blue with pearlescent white. Silver dots highlight and follow the swash of paint behind the angel — the effect resembles the spray of fireworks in the sky.

So, with confidence and hope in this message, strengthen those with feeble hands, shore up the weak-kneed and weary. Tell those who worry, the anxious and fearful, “Take strength; have courage! There’s nothing to fear. Look, here — your God! Right here is your God! The balance is shifting; God will right all wrongs. None other than God will give you success. He is coming to make you safe.” — Isaiah 35:3

Blessed are those whose help comes from the God of Jacob, whose hope is centered in the Eternal their God — Psalm 146:5

For this reason, my brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the return of the Lord. Look! The farmer knows how to wait patiently for the land to produce vegetables and fruits. He cannot harvest a freshly planted seed. Instead, he waits for the early and the late showers to nourish the soil. You need this same kind of patience, so in the meantime, strengthen your resolve because the Lord will be coming soon. — James 5:7-8

While the angel form in artistic works certainly represents those beings who serve and administer for God, such depictions can also be understood as visual metaphors for the qualities of God us humans most need reminding of — hope, strength, courage, faith.

The angel form of Gabriel can therefore represent the delivery itself of God’s message to us. I enjoy working to create variations on Gabriel that exude God’s presence, power and rescue. This particular angel is based on the 13th century mosaic found in the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul.

It strikes me how large the wings are on this Gabriel — much larger than other angel prototypes I utilize. I find this a point of significance in light of the texts this week. As wings on angel forms represent the swiftness and speed of message delivery, they also symbolize the ability of a message to go anywhere and everywhere. The message contained in these Scriptures is of the highest importance — God’s desire and promise to save us through the coming of Christ.

It can be humorous at times what might pop up as you explore image and Scripture. Of all the thoughts to occur, I found myself looking at Gabriel’s enormous wings and remembering a quote from the classic killer shark movie, Jaws. Upon meeting defeat in catching the terrorizing beast due to the inferiority of their equipment, Sheriff Brody delivers the famous line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” A parallel conclusion came to me… “We’re gonna need bigger wings.”

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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