December 1st: God sent the angel Gabriel to visit a young woman.
Her name was Mary.
Her name was Mary.
As we drove home along the slow, undulating, winding B roads it really was pitch black outside. The kids were just about asleep and my wife was nodding off in the passenger seat beside me. Suddenly there was a presence over my shoulder outside the car, barely visible in my peripheral vision. You take your eyes off that road at your peril in daylight, let alone late at night....
December 2nd: She was scared. She had never seen an angel before.
...and yet I allowed myself a glance out of the side window. It was a snowy owl, wings outstretched and keeping pace with the car as we both swooped downhill. It could only have been ten feet away, possibly less, and the sight was magnificent: such grace and beauty in flight. I woke the rest of the car and told them to look. They all managed to catch sight of the owl before it banked off into the fields. We all felt we had seen something very special.
December 3rd: Gabriel said, "Don't be afraid. You are very special to God."
When we got home, not long after, as we got ready for bed, my youngest child told me, "That was awesome, Daddy. It was like something magical. Or in a film, like CGI.". I agreed. I think we all dreamt of silently swooping, enchanted owls that night.
December 4th: "You will become pregnant and give birth to a Son.
You must name him Jesus."
The following morning, I was still thinking about that owl. I was convinced it hadn't been there by coincidence but had actually been flying alongside us for fun. That may sound odd, I know, but somehow I had the idea that the owl had been playing with the car. Having seen its lights perhaps it decided to race us, or just fly alongside to keep up with us, or even perhaps watching out for anything scurrying and tasty caught in our headlights. In any case, a game of sorts. How amazing that a creature with its own life, concerns and things to do should have crossed paths with us in this way.
December 5th: "He will be called the Son of the Most High God."
Surrounded by the more obvious signs of nature and creation as we were, living in a very small rural community among grazing fields for sheep and horses, woodland, pheasant habitat, crop fields and delicately babbling becks, it was easy to take the natural world around us for granted. This is true wherever you live, familiarity breeding if not contempt, then certainly complacency about the beauties, conveniences or facilities around you. Life out here has more of the beauties than conveniences or facilities for sure, but even so, every place becomes ordinary to some extent once you live there. The owl had brought me a message though by reminding me of what wonderful things there were to see if I'd only stop and consider them: creation itself is an act of incarnation, of God revealing something of himself to us.
December 6th: Mary asked, "How can this be so? I am not married."
I was a little confused in my reasoning about this: I knew that God was not only evident in the kind of nature we see in the countryside. Indeed, the countryside is as man-made a landscape as any city. The whole of creation is testimony to its creator. And, that aside, God is not defined merely in terms of the wonder of the world. That is merely a symptom, a sign of the person of the Creator God. But still, that encounter on the road late at night had touched me, and I could only go on what this gliding, beautiful messenger had put in my heart. I knew the message was that, not only is God our Creator. The advent message rings true: God Is With Us.
December 7th: Gabriel answered, "With God, all things are possible."
Somewhere, elsewhere, in the middle of a city, perhaps someone else was being similarly touched and prodded by the Almighty using a pigeon, a rat, the swirling of litter in an alleyway, the ringing of burglar alarms or silent raindrops creeping down a window. Who knows?
But the messenger I saw that night on the road told me clearly that God is alongside us. He is out there whether we know it or not and has made it his business to allow us to share a journey with him, even if it means taking our eyes off our own road a little.