By Anthony Casperson
In the sixth chapter of the novel I’m writing, I introduce a character named Onoma (pronounced ON-a-ma, not o-NA-ma). There’s a purpose for her introduction in that chapter, which appears to be the only reason for the encounter. However, I—as the author—knew that she would play a larger role later on in the story, and so introduced her in that chapter in order to carry forward themes and ideas from that introduction when she shows up again in later chapters.
It’s a type of shorthand that authors can give their readers so that those later parts of the story can focus more on the important details of the moment being told. Innocuous work earlier on bears the weight of that topic without later needing to repeat it in intricate detail.
This type of character introduction came to mind as I thought about the end of the sermon series through Daniel that I finished last week and the celebration of Christmas next week. And it all came down to the naming of Gabriel.
Specifically, the angel Gabriel is only named in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. In the former, to explain a couple of visions about the grander plans of God to the prophet Daniel. And then in the latter, to announce (to one soon-to-be parent each) the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
It might seem like those two parts of the bible show that Gabriel is a messenger of God who explains certain plans to God’s followers, but why then is the angel’s name not found in other locations where God’s plan is revealed? Like why doesn’t Matthew tell us the name of the angel that speaks to Joseph about the unborn child in Mary’s womb is from God? Or the angel that commands Joseph to flee to Egypt after Jesus’ birth?
To me, it seems likely that God is using this authorial shorthand with the later event featuring Gabriel.
Think about this. In Daniel 8-9, the prophet is in Gentile lands (which has been true of most of his life) and witnesses a couple of visions that are difficult for him to understand. And Gabriel is told to explain. Plus, the vision of chapter 9 comes after Daniel’s been praying for God’s plan to end the seventy years of exile, but it then reveals the seventy weeks of years that are purposed by God to overcome the calamity of sin and end the reign of ungodly power.
Then, we come to the gospel according to Luke, the only book of the New Testament written by a Gentile. And there we see Gabriel sent to the future father of John the Baptist (Zechariah) and then Mary. The messages concerning the birth of the one who was to prepare the way of the Messiah, and then the birth of the Messiah who would bring about an unending kingdom. Essentially, bringing the end to all ungodly power.
But there’s a hint about the plan of God working through the cross of Jesus (the cutting off of an anointed one, a Messiah, of God as Daniel 9:26 puts it). The unending and glorious kingdom of the Messiah, whose birth is being announced to his mother, needs to be seen through the promised plan of God, which includes a growing of ungodly power until the completion of God’s work of earth.
Yes, there’s joy and excitement at the births of two miraculous births. But it’s a part of the promise of God for the ultimate end of his people’s suffering, even though the difficulties are, as of yet, still among us. And have the likelihood of getting worse.
Just as how Gabriel’s explanation to Daniel about how the Israelites’ exile was about to be over, but it pointed forward to the greater plan of God that included continued suffering until God put an end to all ungodly power, so too Gabriel’s announcement of the joyous births of both the Messiah’s forerunner and the Messiah himself points forward to the greater plan of God to bring ultimate salvation through the suffering of the cross. And even then, until Christ’s return in the future, we will continue to suffer as ungodly power fights against its eventual demise.
All of this to say, if you’re looking around this Christmas season with wonder of where God’s at because of all of the suffering around (and inside of) you, know that the work of God has not finished yet. Suffering has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning.
But it should never keep us from finding time to celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of the promised good.
Find his joy in the season, even if present suffering makes it impossible to be happy.
Merry Christmas. And see you in the New Year.