written and preached by Rev. Natalie Shiras
December 18, 2011 Luke 1:46-55
In India for the second time this past summer, the number of beggars again astonished me. Beggars coming among the cars through the stalled traffic, beggars lying along the sides of the streets and in the alleyways. Men, women, young, old, blind, lame. I found myself wanting to look away.
The children especially were heart breaking because they pleaded with their eyes, and put their hands to their mouths as if for food. But as I looked into their eyes, something changed for me. Rather than seeing them as beggars, I saw them as like me, fellow human beings.
This morning’s scripture is the visit by the angel Gabriel to Mary who declares that she will conceive and bear a son and call his name Jesus. The angel visits her, but more importantly, the angel looks upon her.
The angel’s first words are, “Greetings, favored one!” The angel looks upon this poor teenager of little account, as valued. At first Mary wonders, “How can this be?” And then Mary receives this deep regard with the acknowledgement, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
When we look upon someone as the angel Gabriel looked upon Mary, we are truly regarding him or her. As the angel Gabriel regarded Mary, she really got it. As I regarded these people begging for a handout, our eyes would meet. And sometimes there was a connection between us. So I realized it was not really about just giving a handout. It was about the relationship, the connection.
We don’t really know when we meet someone, what that connection will be. It may last a minute, it may last six months, it may last a lifetime.
A few years ago I met an angel. I was with our Church on the Hill youth group at a soup kitchen in theBronx. It was a hot and muggy summer day. Lines for the meal stretched around the block. We had been cooking all morning and I was beat. How was I going to have the stamina to serve for the next three hours?
We had a good rhythm. Some of us were in the hot kitchen serving up the plates and handing them through the window. The rest of us took them to the tables. The coordinators of the soup kitchen told us to serve as if each person were a guest, as if at a restaurant. Set the plate down and smile. Wait for everyone to finish before clearing.
After an hour I began to feel light headed. I tried drinking some water. People kept coming. I wasn’t sure I could hold up. I began to take shortcuts, thrusting the plates across the table instead of placing the plate down gently at each place. One of the guests smiled at me and got up. He brought his plate I had just thrust toward him and steered me around to his place. He then sat down and motioned for me to do it the right way. There was no judgment, only compassion in his eyes. I looked at him as he looked at me. We made a connection.
I felt exhilarated. New energy surged through me and I had no problem finishing another two hours of serving. I felt I had met an angel who regarded me and helped me.
Angels sometimes come to us unawares. God sends them to us to do well, when we least expect it. Have there been angels come into your lives when you did not feel ready or worthy or up to doing or finishing something?
In every human encounter we have the opportunity of really seeing the other person. Mother Teresa who worked all her life inIndiasaid:
“There is a man standing there on the corner, and you go to him. Maybe he resents you, but you are there, and that presence is there. You must radiate that presence that is within you, in the way you address that man with love and respect. Why? Because he… is not only hungry for a piece of bread, but hungry for love, to be known, to be taken into account.”
Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with God. Amen.